Mar 10

The End of a Market Economy?

What happens when you no longer own goods, but rather have rights to access them?

Is this happening?  Music, movies, and books.  At best, in the music world, you own a digital version of a song, encoded in an open format.  At worst, you own the “rights” to play a song in a proprietary interface.   Blu-ray will keep the physical aspect of movies rolling for a while — but with Hulu, Netflix On-Demand, and the like, streaming takes movies to the same place — “rights” rather than ownership.  And finally, as I play more and more with my Kindle, I see the world of books moving this way.

The common denominator in all of these are that they are information goods.  How do you create a market for goods you don’t own?  A key component of a market economy is that the goods are salable.  Now that I’ve purchased a book for my Kindle, how do I sell it when I’m done reading it (or donate, give it, lend it)?

My prediction: “Rights’ Exchanges.”  If software protection can ever get ahead of protection cracking, you’ll see people buying and selling rights to things.  I’m going to have to go back to my Econ books to figure out what the implications of that are.

Imagine instead of buying my public transit smart card, I buy transit rights — ones that I can use, trade, sell, or give away.  I wonder if the city could make more money by discounting bulk rights purchases so they could basically sell to capacity — rather than sell to demand.  Would this work?  It’s kind of like being a season ticket holder.  The original seller ensures a floor of revenue, minimizing risk, while the resellers take on more risk if they choose to time demand spikes.

Going to have to think more about this one.

Jan 10

An Interface Approach to Innovation

When we release a product, we often want to talk about its power and versatility. Truth is, nobody else wants to hear about that. They want to know – in as simple a manner as possible – why something should matter to them.

I agree with this point of view.   However, my initial reaction was that the takeaway was you needed a simple (single-use) device to have it successfully adopted.  And, while I believe that wasn’t the aim of the article, I do want to talk a bit about that faulty assumption.

I think we’re not technologically constrained to a single-use device mantra for success.  And many other people agree with this (people who criticize the Kindle, the iPhone without a camera, etc).  However — the quote above applies — and is the downfall of the do-everything device.  Here’s the paradox.  I think we need do-everything devices, but they need to be task-oriented.

The key to this is to think of interfaces.  What is the purpose of an interface?  Let’s think about a reading interface.  The ideal reading interface has good enough resolution to display very dense tables/graphics, generates very little eye strain,  is large enough to provide enough words that  line breaks don’t become cumbersome, and allows for simple/fast/intuitive navigation (scrolling, page flipping, etc).  As an interface then, the Kindle suffices.

However, one missing piece is the form of the interface.  A paperback book as a reading interface is portable, light, small, durable, very long use, exchangeable/sharable, and usable without restriction (think airplanes and electronic restrictions).  Here the Kindle only provides portability and lightness.

Another missing piece is the content.  What information is exchanged/displayed in an interface?  Where the Kindle breaks down is the limiting format of the content.  While it’s very easy for me to get books, it’s harder to get other “printed” or text into the device.  Further, the content only lives on the device — I can’t sell or transfer the content — or utilize in a format outside of the Kindle.

So form and function live in the domain of the interface — while content and format live separately.  It reminds me of the whole HTML form/content debate.  Web 2.0 and beyond are all predicated on this separation.  Devices, especially mobile interfaces, are still up against this (mobile phone vs carrier, e-readers, streaming video content).  Without a content “standard” how can there be true innovation?  Interfaces, as versatile as they might be technologically, are constrained by the content formats they have access to.

Dec 09

Amazon Makes You Dumb

Amazon makes you dumb — or at least that’s one consequence of this point of view.  The article blames Amazon’s tax “evasion” techniques for the inability of state and local governments to earn the tax revenues needed for schools and police.   This doesn’t make much sense to me.

Amazon is already paying taxes, federal and state, for what it produces and sells.  The only tax revenue that is under question is the additional sales tax in the state the items are purchased in.  The article claims that Amazon is finding loopholes in tax law so it can maintain a competitive advantage against rivals by offering lower prices.  If you follow that  No state sales tax –>  lower price –> competitive advantage then you have to believe that adding the state sales tax to Amazon purchases would eliminate the competitive advantage.  Then Amazon wouldn’t be selling as much in those states and you wouldn’t earn (as much as you think you should) on that revenue.  And it can’t be said, with any certainty, that the increase in revenues from the added sales tax wouldn’t be offset by the loss in corporate taxes on the total revenue earned by Amazon.

I guess I’ m a tax idiot, but I’m not sure sales tax even makes sense.  And I guess that’s a larger point —  I don’t think our tax system/law is understandable in any meaningful way.  What are the underlying principles of what is taxable and what isn’t?   It seems the whole point of tax is a means to fund public services and goods.  What would happen if sales tax were eliminated — and the required tax revenue was made up by corporate and personal income tax?  It seems strange that consumers are penalized for consuming.  Sure — keep gas and cigarette taxes in effect, but it seems the administration of sales tax itself may be so difficult to manage that it may never pay out.

Further, to this point, there more complex the tax law is, the more “loopholes” that exist.  And more time must be spent on closing those loopholes.  However, until that time, as a consumer, I’m benefiting from Amazon’s effective and legal tax maneuvering.

Dec 09

From A Great Height

How durable is your Kindle? I had mine in it’s optional black case. I dropped it in a way that seems would occur most frequently — oriented vertically as it is being read. It hit the bottom right corner with an audible crack. It fell about 3 feet onto a hard tile floor. The metal has a 3-4mm gouge out of it now. The front and back sections dislodged. After a few tries snapping them back together, everything seems aligned. It has been working fine for the last 5 days since the occurrence. The only hiccup, which I can’t attribute to the fall, is that the page sometimes advances on it’s own ( about once every 300 or so page flips).

I was a skeptic on the Kindle for many reasons. But after receiving one as a gift I’ve been using it quite a bit. I’m a book lover and horder. So it might be useful to document how (and if) I get comfortable using the Kindle instead of books. More to come.

Mar 09

Music Trends in Tag Clouds

Last 12 Months Most Played Tracks

Last 12 Months Most Played Tracks

I’ve got a wide variation of bands in my last 12 months.  When you look across 3 years or so of data, you get a different picture — with some dominant bands/names.

3 Year Most Played Tracks

3 Year Most Played Tracks

Pictures created using wordle and last.fm.

Feb 09

Picking Oscar Winners with Google Insights for Search

There’s no statistical rigor here — but in looking at the past 3 years of best picture winners, it seems the rate of increase in search activity in the weeks leading up to the big night coincide with the winner.

Search Interest 2006 Best Picture Nominees

Search Interest 2007 Best Picture Nominees

If this holds true, expect Slumdog or Frost/Nixon to win.  Depending on what time period you aggregate on inside of the Google tool, it appears Slumdog has the slight advantage.

Search Interest 2008 Best Picture Nominees

Feb 09

Friday the 13th: Vacation


Where we spent Friday the 13th and weekend.  I didn’t know they released a new version of the movie.

Feb 09

Google Trends Versus Twitter Twist Trends

Both Franz Ferdinand Tonight:Franz Ferdinand and Andrew Bird Noble Beast have released new albums in the past 30 days. I started thinking about how good they are, relative to one another.

In my initial preview I found “Tonight” to be the same old Franz — in a boring way, while “Noble Bird” was the same old Andrew in a good way. I turned to Twitter and Google to see what everyone else is thinking.

First, Google shows parity in the US across the two acts in search, with Franz Ferdinand getting substantially more news hits. Oddly, the albums were released in separate weeks and search results don’t reflect this.

Andrew versus Franz

Andrew versus Franz

The most interesting distinction through Google Trends came through the location information. I started with no regional filters. Franz Ferdinand popped very high in Croatia and other seemingly odd places. I then filtered for only in the United States.

Andrew versus Franz by location

Andrew versus Franz by location

Bird crushed Franz Ferdinand in Austin, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, and Minneapolis. FF dominated Irvine, CA and LA. Not sure what that means? Bird rocks and FF doesn’t (yes I live in Chicago).

Franz versus Andrew

Franz versus Andrew

Twitterers are making more noise about Franz Ferdinand (sorry about the color swap, blue = bird in these graphs) — though in general, the tweet rate looks low. They start to look similar over the last few days.

The real metrics here are actual listens, downloads, or sales. Based on current Amazon Sales Rank, in CD format, “Tonight” ranks #36 and “Noble Beast” ranks #94. However, as an MP3 download,”Tonight” ranks #54 and “Noble Beast” dominates at #12.

I have a few tools I can use moving forward to track this stuff in more detail. Not sure what to make out of this just yet — but interesting nonetheless.

Feb 09

Drive of the Dead

Driving out to a client this morning I took local roads rather than the highway.  I got the impression, as I drove through cemetary after cemetary, that Chicago is the city of dead.   Between cemeteries you hit little strips of storefronts from the 50′s-70′s:  cold, empty, forlon.  

Because of The Lazarus Project, my most recent read, I’m thinking more about how previous generations have viewed the world.  What troubled them?  What made them happy?  Are we, today, more similar to them than we think?  Or more distinct?

Jobless numbers at an all time high. 

I asked my wife this morning if our daughter will someday talk about living through the Depression…

Feb 09

Upgrading an Escalator on the CTA

What happens when you upgrade an escalator?  What are the user benefits?  Less down time?  Faster ride?  Smaller chance of shoe laces getting caught in the moving parts?

I raise these questions because of the upgrade occuring on the Washington stop of the Blue Line.  Sometime before Thanksgiving I believe, the escalator was blocked off.  Weeks later a sign was erected that said something about pardoning our dust, we are upgrading the escalator with a completion time in summer 2009.

Today I got to see why they had walled off the escalator these past months:  they were building a plywood staircase where the escalator was!  So I wonder if they are going to now tear out the concrete steps, build plywood ones there, close the other side down again, rebuild the escalator, close down the other side, rebuild the steps, then open everything up again by this summer on time and on budget!

Didn’t the head of the CTA take over the Chicago Public Schools?  I can’t wait to see the renovation projects in store.