127 posts categorized "the future"

February 26, 2015

Net Neutrality and the Death of Self-Government

Back in 2006, I wrote an article about Net Neutrality that has become more relevant given the recent decision to reclassify the Internet as a public utility, which allows it to be regulated as a Title II entity.

If you're just joining us, that sounds like a bunch of gobblygook, and for good reason. It is.

The people who have been calling for Net Neutrality rules, such as Barack Obama, John Oliver, The Oatmeal, as well as most of my colleagues, welcome this news as a signal that ISPs will no longer be allowed to give preferential treatment to certain types of Internet traffic, regardless of what people may be willing to pay for of their own free will. 

One of my colleagues, an Obama supporter whom I nevertheless am very fond of, expressed absolute incredulity that I cautioned patience over his dissatisfaction with his choices of Internet Service Providers (ISP) and the service they offer. It will get better with time, I said, just as it got better from the old CompuServe and America Online days of needing to dial long-distance numbers through a modem to get a connection that allowed you to hook up to a chat room to tell spam jokes (true story). 

On the other side, fellow Texans Ted Cruz and Mark Cuban (whom I've criticized from time to time) find themselves, more or less, on the same side regarding Net Neutrality. 

The intent of Net Neutrality sounds good on the surface. Who wants fast Internet all the time? And for less, too! I do, I do! 

However, we have to separate the INTENT from not only the CONSEQUENCES, but also the MEANS, for ignoring the means or treating them as inconsequential has indirect consequences that affect all of us.

The means they are using for SWEEPING changes to the role the federal government plays in Internet access bypasses people’s own personal choices (first) and their direct representatives (second) in favor of a bureaucratic decision (on a 3-2 vote) that is absent any meaningful oversight. Regardless of what we think of the intent, the process matters. Accepting the maxim that an unelected bureaucracy can and should make such sweeping (rather than, say, incremental) changes on a vote from the board of directors effectively divorces the American people from self-government. We are no longer in control.

Second, the direct consequences of these new regulatory powers are detrimental to the free exchange of goods and labor between private parties — meaning the ISP and the people who are willing to pay for access, on their terms, and substitutes the terms of an unelected regulatory body that apparently has the power to change its mind on a whim. 

Third, having the ability to throttle certain channels taken away from them, ISPs must either slow down the “fast-track” channels to compensate, or invest in infrastructure to expand the bandwidth so speeds can keep up with the increased demand. The natural consequence for this is slower speeds and higher prices, which the ISPs will dutifully either lobby to be paid for by the taxpayer (higher debt or taxes), or pass on to the consumer in the form of higher fees.

What’s worse, it’s going to take a few years for this to get through the courts (more costs!), so by the time we start seeing higher prices and/or poorer service, we’re going to forget how we got here, and we’ll be powerless to do anything about it, because the FCC doesn’t answer to us.

This was passed amidst the singing accolades from people who should, but do not, know better, and those whose knowledge of the issue is limited to the dismissive rantings of a comic or the biting parody of a cartoonist. We should not mistake that for informed consent of the American people.

- Cam Beck

September 27, 2013

The Google Encryption Dilemma

If you've been only moderately interested in looking at your search reports in Omniture, Google Analytics, or whatever tracking software you're using for your website, you've probably noticed an alarming growth in the number of referring search keywords that are (not provided) for you to see. If you're in this space heavily, you're probably well aware of it, and you may be  a bit miffed at Google for taking away these insights from you.

I've also come to enjoy the sorts of insights made available by this data, but take some comfort knowing that the sky is not falling. Your jobs just got a little more interesting.

Why did Google do it? Folks are saying it is a response to being dinged in the public arena for cooperating with NSA's prism program to track what people are doing online. 

If you understand how we actually get our data in Google Analytics, you know this explanation is curious. Excepting third-party CRM applications, we can't actually see who is searching. In Google Analytics, we can only see what they are doing in the aggregate, once they get to our site. Why can't Google send the aggregate data as they have been, so we can see which keywords are having the greatest success, so that we can optimize our site for the better-performing keywords?

Happily for us, there is a solution, which unfortunately means more specialization and attention than before, with fewer actionable insights. But it isn't nothing.

Note for beginners: Always have a Google Analytics profile with no filters applied. If you don't know what this means, I recommend picking up the excellent Avinash Kaushik's Web Analytics 2.0. I may address this at a later date, but he's your man, if you want to learn how to do this stuff.

Essentially, you have to "trick" Google Analytics to tell you what landing pages people are arriving at, when you're examining keywords from Organic Search. This doesn't tell you the keyword, but you see where they're going. Here's an excellent tutorial by Kiss Metrics that explains how this is done.

Also, install Google Webmaster Tools. From there, you can see which keywords are bringing people to your site. Even the "encrypted" ones (See? Was that so hard, Google?). What you can't see is what they did when they arrived at your site.

Examine your paid search performance to use as a proxy for organic search. In this case, Google isn't really telling you what people did, they're telling you what you're paying them for.

Continue your keyword research using whatever you've been using to try to identify opportunities for content development and writing. 

Rinse and repeat.

So what's coming? I have no idea. It's crossed my mind, however, that either Google is leveraging this unnecessary move in the name of a specious allegience to "privacy" to sell more stuff -- either more AdWords, its DoubleClick advertising platform, or access to Google Analytics premium -- meaning free access to Google Analytics basic gravy train would be on the way out (Hopefully a lower-cost option than GA Premium or Omniture, or else smaller companies just wouldn't be able to afford it).

Until that happens, the sky is not falling. And if it does, it will be time for smaller companies to look at other solutions. It's always good to be prepared.

August 15, 2013

Guest Post: Why Mobile First is the New Present and Future

Fun Facts:  New mobile device purchase/usage is growing 4x as fast as new people

Every Day:

371,000 Babies are born
500,000 iOS devices are sold
700,000 Android devices are activated
200,000 Nokia devices are used for the first time
143,000 Blackberry smartphones are purchased
1.45M devices vs. 371,000 babies per day

About 25% of websites are viewed exclusively on mobile devices

The Mobile First approach to concepting, designing, and developing responsive websites is a relatively new concept that has received a lot of attention and support lately as the primary approach to handling responsive websites.  Since being first introduced by Luke Wroblewski more than four years ago, then radically adopted by Google in 2010, Mobile First has lately been making a strong case for becoming the new norm moving forward. It was one of the main focuses at this years Adobe MAX conference and still gaining momentum as mobile internet usage rapidly increases. 

Benefits, Opportunities, and Hurdles

From a design and UX perspective, a Mobile First approach forces us to to focus on what's really important.  Graceful degradation, browser to mobile, has us think of these larger-scale, oftentimes much more robust experiences, as a starting point - leaving us with the afterthought, "Okay, so how does this scale down for the mobile users." Many times there are problems with browser functionality that just don't translate well to touch screen devices.  With Mobile First, "Smaller screen size force designers to eliminate the irrelevant and unhelpful aspects of their design." It can really even been seen as a creative exercise to order content and graphic elements by importance and relevance before expanding creativity to larger, more robust screens - strategically streamlining only essential content.

From a development perspective, more and more frameworks are coming out or releasing new versions that are embracing the Mobile First approach - emphasizing how 'lightweight' they are starting at the base mobile screen. A problem with Graceful Degradation is that the elements are hidden for smaller screens but often loaded anyways - increasing HTTP requests and load times. Progressive enhancement, Mobile First, loads only the most basic elements and styles first and adds to those as the browser size increases - making mobile sites much more lightweight and letting users 'often have load times reduced by 30% - 40%.' Not the mention that the CSS styling from this approach results in smaller, more maintainable and easier-to-read code.

This approach would also make it easier to incorporate specific assets and styles for high resolution retina-ready screens and devices as well by detecting browsers by whether their pixel aspect ratio is above 1.5 or not. . It would not further weigh down smaller resolutions and at the same time provide retina users a better experience.

While this all sounds well and good on paper, it does come with a few hurdles. It can be a little weird to think of laying out an entire website starting on a 360px wide canvas. Creativity may seem very constrained, especially when having to consider, 'Wait, how do you even do that on a phone.' It's certainly the reverse way we're accustomed to approaching responsive websites, but it's a concept that probably isn't going away any time soon and has potential benefits that seem to outweigh the initial awkwardness of starting small. 

If our users are continuing to get their internet content from mobile first, shouldn't that be where we start too? - Damon Carlstrom

Damon Carlstrom has background in Interactive Design, Motion Graphics, and Front-End Development, lately focused on UX/UI Design and RWD (Responsive Web Design).

December 22, 2011

The College Degree Myth

SchoollessEducational institutions have it all wrong. 

If you go to college, you will earn more money than if you did not. College admissions departments send collateral that show increases in income levels for those who earn degrees. Teachers, undoubtedly with the best intentions, hoping to find something that will motivate their students to learn the material they're being taught, repeat the same chorus: "If you don't pay attention now, you will not be able to go to college. If you don't go to college, you won't be successful."

They ask you to look the other way when they teach you about people from this august list.

  • Benjamin Franklin
  • George Washington
  • Abe Lincoln
  • Frederick Douglass
  • Thomas Edison
  • The Wright Brothers
  • Steve Jobs
  • Bill Gates
  • Michael Dell

None of them earned college degrees. All were brilliant. All were succesful. And in case it's not clear from the list, several in the group had to overcome modest -- even oppressive -- circumstances of their youth to achieve great things.

There may be an explanation for this. In his classic book, How to Lie with Statistics, Darrell Huff suggessts that the premise of the statement is the child of a post-hoc fallacy, that presumes that because many people who have degrees are successful, the degree must have caused it.

"Actually we don't know but that these people are the people who would have made more money even if they had not gone to college. There are a couple of things that indicate rather strongly that this is so. College get a disproportionate number of two groups of kids: the bright and the rich. The bright show good earning power without college knowledge. And as for the rich one... well, money breeds money in several number of ways. Few sons of rich men are found in low-income brackets whether they go to college or not." 

People like Lincoln, the Wright Brothers, Douglass, etc., weren't stupid on account of their lack of a degree, and they weren't self-made men. They were "Open-Source Learners" -- people who tapped into the resources of their age to improve their understanding about how some part of the universe works.

How much more should we in the 21st century, who can write and talk with and see people halfway around the world in an instant -- for next to nothing -- be able to improve our understanding of how some useful part of the universe works, and with the tools at our disposal, put it to good use?

A little background

My brother Gannon ran into a motivation wall when we were kids. Convinced by the world that he needed to go to college to be successful, once he got it into his head that he could neither afford college nor earn a scholarship, he lost hope, checked out mentally, did as little as he thought he needed to in order to stay eligible for sports and bided his time until he could graduate and join the Marines.

And he was smart. One semester in high school, he dedicated himself and got straight As. Just to prove that he could. After having accomplished that, not believing the effort was worth it, he fell back to Bs, Cs and Ds.

Since then, I've watched his very intentional transformation from a amatuer hobbiest illustrator to a master craftsman. (You can follow some of his work on his blog). His skill can't be chalked up to superior genetics or fancy schooling. It is a product of reading, collaboration, and 5 years or 10,000 hours of practice.

How to Pursue a Degree Without Going to College

In his book, Schoolless (Available on Amazon in paperback and for the Kindle), Gannon doesn't argue that college isn't useful repository of excellent learning tools, or that people should eschew a college degree... Rather, it is a celebration of alternative learning strategies that don't cost $27,000 (the average cost of a 4-year college degree in 2005).  

Wondering how you're going to possibly send your kids to college? Lost hope in ever getting a degree without a mountain of debt? The good news is that you have options. There's still time to get this book for Christmas! Do it today. - Cam Beck


November 03, 2011

3 Ways to Use Mobile Effectively

Since my last post, we've had a few major events in the mobile space.

  1. The iPhone 4s was released to the general public, and people who have been able to overlook the new phone's battery issues (apparently a software issue that will be resolved in a few weeks), they've been so enthralled by its semantic-web (or Subservient Chicken) inspired Siri that they even launched a website that highlights both its ability to recognize complex speech and its personality while doing so. 
  2. A little while later, Google announced its new new Android mobile OS, Ice Cream Sandwich, and the sound of geeks drooling could be heard around the world.
  3. Now Amazon said that it is launching a book-lending service to go along with its Prime membership (as long as they own a Kindle). It's sort of like Netflix, but in addition to movies, it also provides books. Oh, and free 2-day shipping on most of the items you can order on Amazon. Gizmodo calls it "Officially the Greatest Deal in Tech." Certainly Amazon just became more of a digital content juggernaut than it already was.

I'll have more to say on these developments later, but for now, let it suffice to say that this confirms that mobile is reaching the critical tipping point I mentioned before.

(As an aside, I can always tell when some technology reaches the tipping point when my parents start using it. RIght after they joined Facebook, the rest of the world did, even though I had been on it for about two years by the time they joined. True to form, my dad started texting me recently.)

What does this mean? It means that the best computer is the one you have on you. It means if you need to reach people, they need to be able to access you wherever they have a need for whatever it is that you sell. Finally, it means that not having a mobile strategy at this point may well be, competitively speaking, like one of those dreams where you accidentally show up to school without your clothes on ("Shoot! I KNEW I forgot something...")

So what do you do? You get your butt moving, that's what! As I'm sure I heard Seth Godin say at some point, the best time to start is a year ago. The second-best time is right now.

And it's not enough to produce any old thing. Says Jakob Nielsen, "Last year, it might have been cool simply to have an app. Now, that app better be good. Requirements have gone up."

Here are three strategies to get your brain going. By no means is this list exhaustive.


This is when you take everything that is on your website and cram it into your mobile website, but optimize it for the smaller screen sizes. Everything can be reformatted to fit the screen, of course, but for all intents and purposes, they are carbon copies of one another.


This is when you design a mobile experience instead and in exclusion of a desktop website. I can't think of any effective examples for this. Maybe some independent developers looking to create a killer app -- but even most (all?) realize the importance of having a website to support it. Plus, being developers, they also know how easy it is to get something credible up quickly.


A displacement strategy is when the experience designed for each device is married to its respective strengths and divorced from its weaknesses. For instance, desktop devices have a bigger screen area that can be used to enhance navigation or display more information, but you won't have it on you when you're out with your friends wondering what is happening in the city today. Mobile phones, on the other hand, are instantly available when you need quick information, they can identify what's around you due to enormous (and growing) infrastructure support, but doing certain things, like typing, can be murder.  


To successfully pull off any strategy, you really need to put yourself in your audience's' shoes. Which is great if you are your own audience. If not, you're going to need to do some research. Don't skimp on this! If you don't have a much of a budget, start with some guerilla stuff. Take your small wins and build on them.

Be strategic.

Be intentional.

Be mobile.

And be quick about it, will you?

What are some of your favorite strategies for mobile implementation?

- Cam Beck

February 03, 2011

Call Your Game. Play to Win.

Mike-tomlin At the recent AFC Championship game between the New York Jets and the Pittsburgh Steelers, near the end of the game, the Steelers clung to a narrow lead and faced 3rd down with 6 yards to go. The Jets were out of timeouts, but there were 2 minutes left in the game. Should the Steelers not convert in that situation, the Jets would be hard-pressed to march down the field on the NFL's best defense to score the touchdown they would need to win and advance to the Super Bowl. Conventional wisdom (as articulated by the announcers of the game) was to run the ball, eat as much time off the clock as possible, punt and let the Jets try its hand against that stout defense with just over a minute left to play.

It was a pretty good bet, all things considered, but a risk either way. Their punter had a kick nearly blocked earlier in the game, and quite frankly, he hadn't exactly been booming his kicks since he joined the team earlier in the season when their original punter was injured. A long punt return -- even for a score (which was the ruin of several Steelers games last season) -- wasn't out of the question.

A first down, on the other hand, would enable the Steelers to safely kneel down on the ball, and the Jets would be powerless to stop the clock. A first down meant the game would be over, but it was unlikely that the Steelers could get a first down by running the ball, since the Jets were stacking up to stop the run. An incomplete pass would stop the clock. For all intents and purposes, it would have been a free time out for the Jets. 

The Steelers quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, was not having a picture-perfect game, having barely completed half of his passes on the evening. It was no sure thing that he'd complete a pass or have the presence of mind to take a sack instead of making a risky throw against a very good defense. 

But when it came time to decide what to do at that critical moment, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin didn't hesitate. He did not vacillate. "Call your game, BA," he said to his offensive coordinator, Bruce Arians, who called a pass play that, in conjunction with some improvisation by the offense on the field, picked up a first down that sealed the game for the Steelers.

Had the pass been intercepted, or left enough time on the clock for the Jets to run down the field and score, Steelers fans around the world may still be calling for the head of Tomlin. Had the Steelers run the ball, punted and left the game to the defense, no matter what the outcome was, sports pundits would openly wonder if Tomlin lacked the guts to risk losing in order to put the game away.

Now, we have a tendency to measure success based on outcomes, and as such, it's easy to look at that game in hindsight, knowing full well the Steelers are going to their 3rd Super Bowl in 6 years and say that it was a smart move. Gutsy, even. But there's something the certainty of hindsight that makes us forget the loneliness of leadership.

Having observed Tomlin in action, I feel like I know enough to say that, had they let that 24-point lead they once had slip away to defeat, he would have simply said, "That was my decision. If you want to blame someone, blame me. I don't apologize for it. I'd do it again in the same situation." And he'd have plenty of evidence from his team's capabilities to supply such confidence, regardless of the outcome. But evidence doesn't necessarily stop the critics. That's what makes them critics.

A fond farewell

I bring this up today because I've recently decided to say goodbye to my friends and colleagues at Click Here and The Richards Group, with whom I've been fortunate to work with for nearly 7 years, to offer my user experience (UX) skills to the bright folks at Slingshot.

Though sad to leave the place I've spent so many days and nights and leave the good friends and good people who've toiled with me in rain, sleet, snow and sunshine at Click Here, I'm very excited about the opportunity that lies before me -- an opportunity to go for the win, not just for myself, but for my family, my new employer, their clients and their customers related to the projects I'll be working on with my new friends and colleagues at Slingshot.

How do you save the world? One project at a time.

In a recent conversation with a friend and project manager, Joe Wilson (this one, not that one) I expressed my philosophy on business and user experience that frames everything I do, and why I care and take my job very seriously.

In short, I enjoy helping good people and good businesses succeed for the right reasons, for their wealth brings higher employment and individual prosperity, and with that, a better opportunity to not only reduce poverty, but also help those who need assistance, voluntarily. 

"You're trying to save the world," Joe exclaimed.

"Yeah," I told him, "I am," without really reflecting on just how silly it sounded.

Because for man, this is impossible. I know this. Only God has that kind of power. However, that knowledge does not aleive us of our responsibility to our part. To make strides to his purpose, sometimes you need to pass when conventional wisdom says you should run. You have to take risks. You have to play to win, even if it means stepping away from the environment to which you've been accustomed to venture out onto a new playing field and a new strategy that you hadn't originally envisioned.

For one reason or another, that time has come for me.

I extend sincerest best wishes to the entire Click Here organization and everyone I've been blessed to work with over the last 7 years. I cannot express enough gratitude for what you all mean to me.

But I also look forward to the future with great hope and anticipation. Fasten your safety belts, folks. No matter what happens, we're in for a fun ride. - Cam Beck


December 30, 2010

Love Thy Customers: Advice for the Next Decade

"You know what the first rule of flying is? ... Love. You can learn all the math in the 'Verse, but you take a boat in the air that you don't love, she'll shake you off just as sure as a turn of the worlds. Love keeps her in the air when she oughta fall down, tells you she's hurtin' before she keels. Makes her a home." - Malcom Reynolds, Serenity (2005)

10 There's a scene in the sci-fi classic movie, Serenity, where, after a successful heist perpetrated against the evil Alliance, the crew's captain Mal takes the booty back to the job's sponsors, Fanty and Mingo, to give them their 25% commission and (hopefully) get another job. 

"Well our end is forty, precious," says Fanty. One gets the sense that there was soon going to be a major fight when the dueling parties were distracted by an even more entertaining brawl.

Can you imagine a world without trust?

You're at the checkout counter of the grocery store. You need some ingredients for apple crisp. The clerk, who has been eyeballing you for your entire visit, refuses to put the groceries in the bag until he's seen the money. You refuse to show the money until you're sure he'll let you out of the store with them.

But back up. Because before you get to the checkout, you have to inspect all of the fruit. You want to make sure they're not old, rotten mush. You also need to inspect the bags of sugar to make sure they aren't filled with sawdust. The grocer doesn't want you to open the bags, out of fear that you'll replace his sugar with sawdust. So you'd leave without buying, because you don't trust that beady-eyed grocer.

But back up. Because you can't leave your house anyway to go to the grocery store out of fear that you'll get mugged by the ruffians that patrol the neighborhood. You've never seen them, but you're sure they're there. Anyway, the grocer could never have opened a store in the first place, because no one would trust him with a loan. You get your groceries from a garden out back, which is decimated with insects, because you don't have anyone to sell you pesticides.

Successful, sustained commerce depends on a lot of things. We talk a lot about them in the course of our work. Some of them have value, some of them are hogwash. ROI. CPM. Engagement. Usability engineering. Experience. Product, Price, Place, Promotion. Branding. Income statements, balance sheets, cash flow. Social Media. Customers service.

We go to school, conferences and seminars to understand or execute them better. We send wads of cash to Amazon and Barnes and Noble to gobble up Seth Godin's books. And there's nothing wrong with ANY of that. Why would I begrudge anyone from getting better at the technical aspects of their jobs?

But what if we need something more elemental than all of that?

What if our deepest problem isn't whether we know how to calculate return on investment and successfully predict the future. Specifically, what if our deepest problem is that we don't love our neighbors well? And if that is true, what can we do about it?

What's more, how do we encourage each other to love others better? It seems a little self-serving. For when we say to our neighbors, "Love your neighbor," we're including ourselves in that group. We're saying to them, "Love us better." But as a man in the business of talking to others in business, my advice to all those who wish to be successful is this:

Love your customers better.

Thinking over the last decade, we've seen the likes of Enron, WorldCom, Bernie Madoff, Lehman Brothers -- the entire banking and investment industry -- industries run by "the best and the brightest," who went to the "best" schools run multi-billion dollar businesses into the ground as they sought to enrich themselves. It isn't a question of whether they knew how to do math. It was that they loved themselves more than they loved their neighbors.

Why is love so important to commerce?

  • You don't rob someone you love.
  • You don't try to swindle someone you love.
  • You don't overcharge someone you love.
  • You keep your promises to someone you love.

The apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13 what love is and just how important it is. Let's look at what he says, particularly about knowledge or the ability to tell the future:

"And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing."

He continues.

"Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away… So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love."

When you look at the last decade through the lens of improving technologies and products that change the way we communicate, it superficially appears to be a much different environment than in decades past. Could you have imagined Facebook and Twitter a decade ago? Could you have predicted its adoption?

What's more, people who are so inclined have more sophisticated methods to take advantage of/steal from others -- through economics or politics -- and that fosters an abiding suspicion of business, whether the suspicion is well founded in any particular instance or not.

But sometimes you have to take a step back from the pounding you're taking and get back to the basics. None of the things we do in business and marketing makes a difference if we have not love. What's most important to you? What do you want to accomplish? You want to see economic recovery? Then love thy customers. When you do that purely, the circumstances that follow apart from that don't even matter.

- Cam Beck

May 21, 2010

Googlevision: Coming to a Best Buy Near You

A "who's who" partnership of innovation, Google, Sony and Intel is launching a new television platform that promises to change the way we watch TV by allowing people to access the rich utility of the Internet through their television screens.

"Google was able to conduct a series of Internet searches in a drop-down box that appears at the top of television programs. The search results pointed to Internet videos and other content related to the television program on the screen."

"A telecast of a sporting event can be shrunk into a small "picture-in-picture" box so a viewer can look at statistics or other material about the game on TV."

"Viewers can also make search requests by speaking into a remote that runs on Google's Android operating system."

"Google CEO Eric Schmidt described the potential of the Internet TVs as mind-boggling, although he acknowledged it might be difficult for some consumers to grasp at first. That's one reason he said Google decided to team up with Best Buy, which offers a "geek squad" to deal with complex technology."

It reminded me of an article I wrote back in 2007, "How to Save TV":

"This isn't a competition between TV and the Internet. The Internet is richer because of TV, and it's becoming increasingly clear that programs are richer because of the utility of the Internet. That interdependence needs to be embraced -- even harvested."

"As such, the way to save television is to discard the interruption advertising model on which is based -- that is, to make it more like what is good about the Internet. Rich interactive programs (Choose Your Own Adventure, anyone?), on-demand content that remains free and non-intrusive, and effective, accountable advertising."

"The Internet, simply, needs more bandwidth to support better quality content, higher adoption rates, and better usability. I know Cuban doesn't think much of this can be done, but I'm staking my future on the idea that it can."

"What will we call this integrated system? It's hard to predict. I suppose it depends on the primary path the innovation takes -- whether we're getting the combination of TV and Internet through AppleTV 10.0 or if we're getting it through Comcast Cable. If it's the former, perhaps our children will be asking if we can watch the Internet tonight. If it's the latter, maybe they'll ask if they can play on the TV."

First of all, you're welcome, Google. Your bill is in the mail.

Second, I have to raise an objection to this gross simplification used by the AP in their article:

"Google wants to turn televisions into giant monitors for Web surfing so it can make more money selling ads."

I'm not a fan in all the ways they want to do it, but Google wants to change the world. Selling ads is simply how they are able to fund new adventures, but it's also how they provide these paradigm changes for free.

The utilities they've developed in their relatively short life as a company have already changed the way we communicate, the way we travel, the way we do research, the way we invest, the way we advertise and the way we build websites,

Not everything they've developed is exclusively (or even remotely) their idea, but any way you look at it, they've fostered widespread adoption of many of their useful technologies because they've developed a sustainable business model that allows them to offer it at no cost to the user.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting Google, Schmidt, or any other Google employee doesn't care about the money. As Ronald Reagan said, it can't buy happiness, but it certainly can buy a better class of memories.

But money is a means as well as an end. Google could have been anything. They chose the type of business they would be, the applications they would develop and the work they would do.

I'm sure the money is nice. But you cannot sell a product like they're proposing to sell unless it has value to the buyer commensurate with the amount they will pay for it. If Google started out with the question, "How do I sell more advertising," they would have folded long ago. - Cam Beck

February 24, 2010

Why this iPad Won't Kill the Kindle Platform (and how it could)


Many have already voiced glowing praise or strong disapproval of Apple's recently announced iPad.  Some proponents, such as Leo Laporte, call it a "Kindle Killer." Skeptics and haters call it "The next Apple Cube."

These judgments are premature, however. Whatever "magic" Apple has in store for the future, there's nothing in the first generation iPad that changes the market dynamics so completely that it will disrupt Amazon's economics with the Kindle solely as an eReader.

People who buy eReaders are typically going to take reading seriously. The advantages that they bring are best realized by certain types of people:

  • Heavy readers who want to enjoy the improved economics that eBooks bring
  • Heavy readers who want to conserve physical space
  • Anyone who travels frequently and likes to read on trips

With these audiences, the iPad falls short for a number of reasons:

1. Nearly twice the cost of entry
The starting price for the iPad is $499. For the Kindle, it's $259. By way of example, assume the average eBook price is $10, with its hard-copy counterparts costing twice that. A Kindle owner must purchase 26 books before breaking even. An iPad owner would need to purchase 50. 

So for the heavy reader, the economics are hard to justify. For the casual or occasional reader, they are nearly impossible -- if they're going to use the iPad over the Kindle simply as an eReader.

2. Back-lit display
The e-Ink technology that drives most eReaders today has some limitations, but it minimizes eye strain compared to back-lit displays, such as what the iPad has. For heavy readers, this is a significant drawback. It means they can't read as much without their eyes getting tired. It may still be viable for those who are not heavy readers, but in that case, the economics make even less sense solely as an eReader, and except by virtue of wide market distribution, Apple's bookstore cannot promise much revenue to publishers, making the marketplace less attractive (especially as a closed system, as it likely will be).

At least the format is open-source anyway, so they don't have to reformat their books specifically for the iPad.

3. Shorter battery Life
10 hours is a lot of time to be reading. And the standby time the iPad promises is remarkable, but a back-lit display capable of showing full-color images, videos and applications comes at a price. With wireless off, the Kindle can go at least two weeks without a charge, so there's no reason to be tethered to a power source for travelers.

Marketing Differences

Because the iPad does a lot of things, it's hard to describe it using terms that are clear and understandable by a lot of people. The tagline for the iPad is "A magical and revolutionary product at an unbelievable price."

What's the frame of reference? It's a "product?" So is a refrigerator. And oatmeal. And manure. 

It's almost as if Apple believes an entire category can be created by adding abstract and glowing adjectives.

Plus, because the iPad does a lot of things, making promises about how many books it holds would undermine its uses as something other than just an eReader. And it is much more than just an eReader. It's a "product" that CAN be used as an eReader. Among other things.

The Kindle, by contrast, says it's a "reading device" and promises simply that it will hold 1,500 books. In other words, more than you'll read over the next five years.

That's much more concrete than "16GB," which is how much storage the entry-level iPad promises.

So, as an eReader, Amazon's Kindle enjoys the advantage of being able to be explicitly sold as an eReader.

Apple Raises the Bar for User Experience

Apple has done some things well. Even as an eReader iPad works in some important respects. The prevailing question is whether it works sufficiently for the consumer at their prices.

1. Intimacy
Though not flawless, the experience of reading a book on the iPad looks to be more intimate than with the Kindle. The page-turning metaphor is direct and closely resembles the experience of actually turning a page of a book. Along with the ability to deliver deeper content through color and multimedia (which is impossible with either the Kindle or a physical book), motivated publishers have the capability to engage consumers like never before possible.

2. Usability
The touch-screen interface allows Apple to dispense with the metaphors that drag down the Kindle. That makes interactions more direct and gives publishers and app developers more flexibility on how they choose to deliver their content. As such, students can hope that Apple's platform makes it easier to consume nonlinear books than the Kindle does. And since anyone with an iPod or iPhone is already familiar with the iTunes interface, assuming the experience of purchasing a book rises at least to that level of usability, there's very little reason to believe the experience would be any more difficult on the iPad than the Kindle.

3. Flexibility
The iPad does a lot of little things well, and it looks like it can be used to specialize or converge however its owner intends. It can be a personal assistant. It can be a gaming device. It can be used to stream music or movies (with the right app and know-how) from a media server. It can be used as a netbook computer (especially with the optional keyboard). It can be used as a home automation control pad. Or it can be used as all of these things.

The beauty and the curse is that the consumer controls what it will be used for.

The problem is that convincing the masses that something that CAN be used in such ways SHOULD be used in such ways relies on heavy, repetitive marketing, positive word-of-mouth, or consumers themselves having the imagination for its divergent possible uses. Oh, plus they must be willing to risk at least $500 on the prospects -- with no guarantee of success.

Here's where it gets exciting

I don't know how the mass marketplace will respond, or how much Apple is willing to reduce its margin to gain a wide penetration for the iPad if at first it does not take off.

But even if it doesn't, if Amazon is smart, they won't take this lying down. Nor will Sony or any other manufacturers of either popular eReaders or tablets. If it's successful, the iPad may either drive down the costs of pure eReaders and/or inspire the development of better interactions.

If that happens, people will be more willing to adopt the platform, the cost of reading will decrease, and publishers will be forced to participate in this space and -- hopefully -- embrace the efficiencies it represents for their entire industry.

Whether the iPad brings Apple financial success or not, Amazon will need to improve its interface (which is already very good for linear reading) and technology. The iPad (and -- perhaps more importantly -- the responses it will engender from rival tablet makers) will likely change users' expectation about how they should interact with books.

Even if Apple doesn't sell as many as they hope, I would still count the iPad a success if it resulted in widespread adoption and use of electronic readers in general. - Cam Beck

January 19, 2010

10 Advanced Features I Want from Apple Tablet

Steve-jobs To hear some commentators tell it, Steve Jobs is going to single-handedly save the newspaper industry with Apple's new tablet, which is rumored to be announced next week (Read Newsweek's Article: Five Ways Apple's Tablet May Change the World).

 I wish him, the newspaper industry, and the world the best of luck.

But while we're pontificating about what the Tablet might do, here's hoping its rumored crowdsourcing need aggregation and fulfillment app (codename: iGenie) will pull in my wish list and make it a reality.

Apple-tablet Besides the basics -- Music, Internet, eReader, etc., here are some things I'd like to see in the new Tablet. In the interest of time, I'll stick to the higher points.

  1. A magic pixie dust dispenser (Credit Joe "YOU LIE" Wilson)
  2. Unlimited battery life
  3. If not indestructible (wouldn't be "green"), it would be at least highly durable.
  4. A 20 Megapixel camera with 1600x optical zoom, nightvision, flash, and macro and panoramic views.
  5. Free 4G connection running on a viable unloaded network.
  6. Video conferencing that makes it look like you're looking at the person and not the camera.
  7. Autotuning.
  8. Wireless Enhanced Neurological Projection (I made that term up. Think of Neo's ability to learn Kung Fu in "The Matrix," but without the holes in our heads).
  9. A Step-by-Step Guide to Kung Fu eBook (See previous wish).
  10. Can be used as a flotation device and re-breather in the event of a water landing.

There's much more, but you get the point. What are some of the features you want to see? - Cam Beck