Its called Web 2.0 cause of the deja vu feeling

In the late nineties, there were a suite of comapanies focused upon music/media recommendation (Agent Arts, Kick, etc).  I consulted for a few of them and worked full time for one of them.  These companies used everything from music collections, stated preferences, to actual listening behavior as a means to connect you with people like yourself, suggest new music, and even personalize web portals and media applications.  Ahhh… the good ole days.  Most everyone tanked, given the music industry’s desire to sit on its ass and whine all day long.

Five years go by and lo and behold a crop of new companies take form.  (MOG, iLike, Pandora, etc).  These companies use everything from music collections, stated preferences, to actual listening behavior as a means to connect you with people like yourself, suggest new music, and even personalize web portals and media applications.  Sound familiar?  It should.  And, they are getting funding along the lines of those companies a half decade earlier.

I hope these new folks succeed.  I hope the music, film and TV industries continue to experiment.  But its amazing that the same business ideas (and models) can appear in two different decades.  We’ll see if fate plays a different card this time around.

It had to happen, Zuner or later…

Microsoft is finally going a bit less on the “soft” and has all but officially presented the “Zune” line of music/media products. Absolutely mediocre name, by the way. Leading to bad puns like comingzune.com, the “grass-roots” marketing campaign. Besides moving on the music/media bandwagon way toooooo late, they have to adopt a totally marshmellow name.

Earth to Microsoft. Make great products. Its not really that crazy of a formula when you are already a leading firm in the industry. Listen to people and Make great products. Products that, when you send them out the door, you feel proud. Better yet. Products that you think are so awesome, you don’t even want to sell them. You want to have them all to yourself.

Quit all the expensive, supposedly grass roots marketing campaigns designed by way-too-hip line drawing hipsters. Make a great product. Give people an honest reason to tell everyone else they know about it.

“The news is too depressing”… says the viewer to Katie Couric

The Times has a piece covering CBS news and its plans for a rather intensive launch of the new product, with Ms. Couric at the anchor desk. The Times qualified the Couric post as the first female sole anchor of a major network news cast. Something striking however was a comment Couric made regarding feedback she was getting from potential viewers regarding what they would like the news to be.

Longer news stories, with an eye towards how these stories are relevant to the viewers lives would seem rather compelling of a challenge. However, the complaint that the news is too depressing would seem to point the finger of newscasting in sideways direction.

While subtle, the comment clearly suggests that the news is not only a production, but a perspective. And somehow this perspective could be made not only more relevant, but also more cheery – or at least more encouraging.

I find this opinion to be sideways as it would seem we have totally disconnected what we see on TV as the news, our possible, collective contribution to this news, or our shared experience of the events that make the news. National, World and perhaps even Local events take place “out there,” and are brought to our living room (or cell phone, computer, etc). And what is going on out there wouldn’t be so depressing if you just looked at it a different way, or looked at something completely different. What is going on out there is only relevant when it directly affects our own lives, and is somewhat irrelevant when it only affects the lives of others.
It would seem rather interesting that the media revolution, supposedly the means by which the world would become the global village, has only substantiated our sense of being individual islands. We don’t feel empowered enough to construct a world in which the news might be less depressing, or feel connected enough to think what affects others as inherently relevant to ourselves, but instead request that the news cover less depressing events.

Whether wrong or right, this request for happy, personally relevant news seems sideways to me.

Who are all these people surprised by the long tail?

Congrats to Mr Anderson on what appears to be a rather successful, if not Type 1 (or 2, depending upon your perspective), launch of his book “The Long Tail.” There are still some issues around this concept that surprise me.

First, who are all these people somehow surprised, intrigued and otherwise previously inexperienced with this long tail? Anyone who spends their time online lives in the tail for the majority of their lives – search engines, eBay, Amazon, music services, etc. The premise of web retailing, in fact, was to bring to the market those items that could not survive as inventory in a FMCG (fast-moving-consumer-goods) retail market full of Walmarts. You live in the long tail as you drive down a street and pass reems on restaurants and storefronts that are not chains. You are brutally introduced to the tail when you attend a crafts/flea market.

Second, where is the theory. A wise professor once told me that theory is not fact. Which seems odd seeing that the scholarly types are expected to tell us how the world is. But once something is clearly going on, its no longer a theory. Also, theory is not a prediction, but a relationship among/between things. Basic economics would suggest that increasing the number of substitute products in a marketplace will alter the market itself. So how is the long tail a new theory? Beyond basic economic, how will more things change a marketplace? Or is the Long Tail really a phenomenon, with a clean name, that is becoming most compelling thanks to information networks?

Finally, I reckon we are going to be more surprised by the nature of hits than simple conclusions like many top down hits will be smaller and bottom up hits will be bigger. In this opinion, I may align with Nick Carr– but for different reasons. Larger tails will make competition even more fierce. Fierce competition will add further fuel a situation in which, quite alarmingly, only the biggest of the hits will survive. Essentially, those living the tail will suffer more, while an ever smaller number of those in the Head will make money.

Examples: iTunes. iTunes would appear to control 80%, or more, of the digital retail music market. That’s not a very friendly looking tail for those other folks making digital music stores and services. Blogs – an absolutely tiny proportion of weblogs capture the very great majority of financial, and prestigial compensation. Some might disagree, but I think I only need to insight the roughly tens of millions of weblogs online. The number might actually approach 100 million at this point in time, if I include personal blogs within MySpace.

Either way, we shall see how the Zipf curve, in its most-marketed incantation, plays out.

Social entrepreneurship and Monk eBusiness

Wired has an interesting peek of a story on a group of monks in Wisconsin who have just happened to create a flourishing business re-filling toner cartridges.  The business, LaserMonks (Real Savings, Real Monks), passed the mark of over $2 million per year in business.  No one takes a real salary, though it would seem food, lodging and vespers come with the gig for those so spiritually inclined.  The monks donate portions of each sale directly to charity.  They also are rumored in the story, to have some perquisites including a private plane (no mention however as to whether its a Cesna or some more luxurious ride).

Makes you wonder… non-profits, if stuctured properly, could really be a problem for for-profits businesses in low-investment markets.  If your goal isn’t to sell the business, pursuing a social goal while making a living just might be a great option.

Why do we believe in incentives?

The way in which companies try to solve the problem of unruly executives, or staff, and corporate governance seems to be dominated by the assumption of incentives.  We calculate our best interest, and as such, act towards the opportunities we find most compelling.  We can be incentivised to act in particular ways, therefore.  Stock options align the interests of managers with shareholders, for instance.

In the research on incentives however, its pretty evident that the above-mentioned equation rarely works out.  Many times, of course, we simply fail to imagine, in advance, those objectives towards which we would like people to align.  Other times, we fail to capture the incentives people truly value.  When we hit these nails however, it seems that incentives still don’t make the world fall nicely into alignment.

Given the fact that incentives exhibit very mixed results in terms of directing idealized outcomes, why do we still speak of people in these terms?  MacGregor (1951, I believe) developed his theory X and Y. But why are we theory X or theory Y?  Or more specifically, when are we most likely to find a home in either of these camps?

Rocketboom back, and might be better… unless you preferred the bad acting

Rocketboom finally went back live today, after all the ridiculous and public display of bullshit for the last week or so. As an alumni of NU, and a prior occupant of the theatre department, I have to admit – unless it was intentional, Ms Congdon was questionable as an actress (even with the seemingly padded top section). But hey, that can sometimes be what people want, so be it (how else would Toom Raider, the movie, ever have been a success?). That farewell video at the end of which she pretends to be brought to tears was a bit unconvincing, however. I am not saying she isn’t disappointed or distraught to leave the Boom. I am just saying the expression seemed contrived rather than believable. The media always love the apparent underdog however, she seemed to be wronged, and pretty much all press folks took her side of the story.

I am going to agree with Calacanis on this one. The new show might have a chance be better, or at least more tolerable for many people. Ms Congdon should relish in the supposed contract sitting in a bank somewhere, by which she owns 49% of something of value. Its way better to help make something you own better than it was, than to expend energy that will most likely do harm. Founders of startup companies have to take this humble pill all the time. On the trading floor, this emotional let go was dubbed “never fall in love with your position.” Sometimes, it better to just let go.

Noah, from 88Slide even steps in a comment (on Calacanis’ blog) with what seems like an attempt to (1) pump his own show (2) defend his possible acquisition of new talent. Fun stuff is you are into weblog soap operas.