Author Archives: joel - Page 2

NookColor: First of the iPad Challengers

If you’ve read my blog at all over the past couple of years, you know how unenthusiastic I am about e-readers in general, and the Kindle specifically. Today, Barnes and Noble introduced their new reader, the NookColor, and it’s a huge leap forward that should help them gain significant market share.

The NookColor is, of course, full color, but also important, it features:

  • A web browser
  • Support for digital music files
  • Support for MP4 video files (I’d like to see more codecs supported, but it’s a start)
  • Android OS
  • Its own app store, so presumably most Android apps will work with it, although B&N will  curate the offerings
  • 8GB of internal memory, with a Micro-SD slot that can support up to another 32GB
  • A mini-USB port
  • Wifi

All that, for the low, low price of…$249.  You read that right.

James McQuivey of Forrester Research talked a little today about how this new Nook will affect the Sony and Amazon offerings, but what I want to know is how it will affect the iPad.  If you read through that feature list above, it matches the iPad almost feature-for-feature, although it surely has a slower processor, and of course wouldn’t sync with iTunes.  (Personally I find iTunes bloated and slow, and can’t stand using it anyways, so no loss there.)

So the question is will people keep shelling out $600+ for Apple’s iPad?  If so, why?  The prestige?  The “cool factor”?  Because they’ll only buy Apple products?

The NookColor really hits the sweet spot, and is a sign of things to come.  It caters to those of us to don’t read enough to justify a dedicated e-reader (most Americans, I’m guessing), and to those of us who think the iPad just isn’t useful enough to justify the price (I don’t think I’m alone there, either.)  The NookColor is actually the first e-reader or tablet that has piqued my interest as having sufficient functionality at a reasonable price point.  And it doesn’t look half-bad, either.

I don’t think B&N has the marketing chops to take on Apple, but I think the NookColor is the first in a string of low-end tablet/readers we’ll see come out in the next year or two that will turn tablets into a commodity product, like netbooks.  At their current pace, Apple may see the iPad get Mac’ed in the not-too-distant future.  Its cost and closed nature will relegate the iPad to a niche market of customers who will spend significantly more for the sense of style and status that Apple products bring with them, but the mass market will yet again pass Apple by.  Incidentally, Android phones are selling faster than iPhones these days, too…

Facebook and Foursquare can coexist

By now you’ve surely heard about the release of Facebook Places.  Many are calling this release the endFacebook Places on iPhone of Foursquare, which has been the market leader in mobile location-based apps so far, but I believe the two can coexist, just as they promised they would at the launch event on Wednesday.

The reason they can coexist is that their products are different and will therefore serve different markets.  Foursquare from its inception has been focused on making check-ins into a game by rewarding users with badges and “mayorships.”  Foursquare also helps people stay connected by pushing notifications when their friends check in near them, but I’ve found this feature to be annoying personally.  Often I’d find myself in the middle of something when I’d receive a check-in from a friend telling me they’re at a restaurant or something, which is rarely useful information.  Am I supposed to stop what I’m doing and drive across town?  Maybe this is more useful in small cities or for high school/college students whose friends aren’t quite as spread out.

Surely Foursquare will integrate coupons or some other Shopkick-style shopping features to make the service more useful, but it’ll likely always be focused on the gameplay aspects and on aggressively notifying friends of their friends’ whereabouts, making it attractive for a younger, constantly-connected demographic who will likely be very loyal and use it non-stop.

Facebook’s offering lines up nicely with their overall positioning – their check-ins are aimed at helping people connect with their friends, see where their friends are (or have been), and share their activities with those they care about.  The entire experience is more opt-in – if I want to see where my friends are, I can go look at the list – it isn’t always pinging me to tell me where people are.  When you post check-ins, they go straight to your Facebook feed, just like any other status update.  Once Facebook gets the privacy settings all worked out, it promises to be an elegant, less “always-on” approach to keeping friends connected.

Facebook also has the advantage of a larger installed base.  Most people have far more friends on Facebook than Foursquare, so it’s inherently more useful than Foursquare (although I could see kids using Foursquare specifically to avoid broadcasting their check-ins to their parents/relatives…)

Ultimately I think the debate is about “mainstream” location services, and “hardcore” location services.  Foursquare can continue to dominate the hardcore and can likely be very successful with it, but Facebook will own the masses.

Does Facebook sell out their own Terms of Service?

I spotted an interesting post last week on about a marketing campaign that JVC was running on their Facebook page.   Its headline promised to explain how JVC added “35,000 fans in 30 days” which is an eye-popping number for anyone who’s ever tried to drive traffic to a Facebook page.  Only the largest companies have more than 35,000 fans total, let alone added in 30 days, so of course I had to read on.

JVC Like It to Win ItJVC is holding a contest in which they give away one product each day to one of their fans on Facebook.  The contest requires people to do three things to enter:

  • “Like” the JVC USA fan page (fairly standard)
  • Submit their email address
  • “Like” a post on JVC’s wall that is dedicated to a JVC product for a chance to win that product (JVC posts a new product on the Wall every day)

As many astute readers of AllFacebook noticed, the last condition of entry is against Facebook’s Terms of Service.

4.2 In the rules of the promotion, or otherwise, you will not condition entry to the promotion upon taking any action on Facebook, for example, updating a status, posting on a profile or Page, or uploading a photo.  You may, however, condition entry to the promotion upon becoming a fan of a Page.

Seems pretty cut-and-dried, right?  Here’s where it gets interesting.  RMI, the marketing company that designed the promotion for JVC says Facebook explicitly gave them permission to run this promotion because they paid Facebook.  The article’s author, Dennis Yu, tries to clear up the confusion but ends up pouring fuel on the fire:

Were any advertiser to just start running a campaign as we did, that would clearly be against the Facebook TOS, as clearly stated in their contest rules. You have to have explicit permission from their team in advance and spend at least $10k.

We had approval at every step of the way from our Facebook rep– Blair Thomson-Levin– and we spent $25k.

The crew at later added a note to the article making clear that the promotion actually is against Facebook’s ToS, but as of today JVC is still running the promotion with no sign of slowing, so this would imply that Facebook does indeed condone the promotion.

Maybe I’m being too nitpicky?  Maybe Facebook should allow this promotion?  The problem with this sort of promotion is that it artificially inflates the “quality score” for JVCs posts, making them far more likely to show up in people’s friends’ feeds.  It breaks the whole “I liked this, so you might like it, too” model that Facebook has executed so well, and turns it into “I liked this because I was bribed, and a thousand other people were bribed, too, so here’s some spam on your wall.”  Not cool, guys.

So it appears that companies who can afford to fork out the cash to Facebook are allowed to buy their way past the Facebook Terms of Service.  This makes Facebook a much more effective marketing venue for wealthy companies than for startups, and could ultimately make it hard for them to compete at all.  Slimy?  Not a big deal?  Capitalism at its best?  Let me know what you think in the comments.

Note: I contacted Facebook’s Ad Support group asking them what it would take for me to run a campaign like this…no response yet.

How Facebook’s Open Graph will own identity and threaten Google

Facebook today announced some potentially ‘net-changing features they are releasing under the moniker Open Graph.  Open Graph replaces Facebook connect, or perhaps deprecates it if you like, making it easier for people to utilize their Facebook data within the context of other websites.  Sounds fancy, eh?  Let’s break it down into understandable examples:

open-graph-stream1Most prominently, websites can embed “Like” buttons on their pages, just as Facebook has on its activity feed items and various other pages around their site.  Website creators will embed these Like buttons because it lets their users publish links they like back to their Facebook feed with a single click – they don’t even need to sign in to the creator’s site, as long as they are already signed in on Facebook - free marketing for the website.

In addition to the Like tool, Facebook offers a variety of other “social plugins” to help site creators make their sites more social and more integrated with Facebook.   The Activity Feed lets users see what their friends are doing on the creator’s site.  Login with Faces shows a user which of their friends are already members of a site and prompts them to sign up with that site to connect with them.  Comments lets users comment on individual items on the creator’s site, and gives them a seamless option to post that comment back to Facebook as well.  All this without having to create an account on the creator’s site.  You get the picture.

Facebook = identity

The most significant immediate implication of Facebooks Open Graph is that site creators may no longer bother having their own registration systems at all, as FriendFeed founder Bret Taylor (now with Facebook) explained.  My interpretation is that Facebook wants to own identity on the web, and site creators are likely to step in line because Facebook has made it in their best interest. If creators adopt the tools, they get free marketing tools and a seamless experience for their users.  All they sacrifice is having to share their user data with Facebook.

Open Graph is easier to implement than Facebook Connect, and people can start interacting with sites immediately, no login required, which is great.   It appears that Facebook will share users’ “basic” information once they connect on a site, so creators get names, email addresses, genders, etc. – all the basic things they would ask for anyway.  Easy for the user, easy for me, everyone wins.

Especially Facebook.  Once Open Graph plugins become widespread, Facebook will know exactly what users are doing…all the time.  They’ll know what sites you visit, and they’ll know what things you Like on those sites.  Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?  Big Brother Zuckerberg knows.

Spam bait

Interesting note for you privacy fans: it appears that any data you make public on your profile (which is most of it by default), including things and sites you like, will now be available to other sites so they can tailor their content to your tastes.  Cool? Yes.  Spooky? Yes.  Ripe for abuse? Most definitely.  While I don’t have a problem with this personally because I am pretty careful and sparing about what I share on Facebook, a lot of people are going to get stung, and spammers and direct marketers will try to abuse the system to deliver unsolicited ads.  I wish Facebook well, but this is going to be a hornet’s nest.


The data

Now for what I think is the real meat of all this: the data.  When site creators implement these Like buttons and other plugins, Facebook is encouraging them to tag their pages with specific types of common metadata that may be relevant:  image, name, location, email address, phone number, and “type” (e.g. sport, activity, restaurant, athlete, city, product, book, blog, website, etc.)  If creators take the time to tag their pages like this, then when their users “like” something, Facebook will know exactly what it is and can present it nicely within the Facebook context.

Think about this for a minute. Suddenly, one organization on the web has the ability to know what pages are about without having to crawl every page (and its backlinks) to figure it out.  Site creators are telling Facebook exactly what their pages are about using structured data.  Here is the quote from their Open Graph page that jumped right out at me:

Based on the structured data you provide via the Open Graph protocol, your pages show up richly across Facebook: in user profiles, within search results and in News Feed.

Search results, eh?  Any page on my site that I tag with structured data can show up in Facebook search.  Facebook could presumably let their users filter the search so it’s for “actors” or “politicians” or “athletes” or whatever type of object.  They can search for activities, landmarks, restaurants near their current location…  This sounds an awful lot like Google, but with 1/100th of the effort that Google goes to when compiling their monstrous index of every page on the Internet.

Even better, all these links are ranked by humans.  Every “Like” button that we press makes this massive index of webpages and real-life offline things smarter.  This is getting impressively close to the holy grail of search: social search.  Not only is it vetted by humans, but it’s real-time – no need to wait for a crawler to poke around every corner of the web.  The best of Google search with the Best of Twitter search in one package.

Google is surely watching these development keenly, and probably wishing they had acquired Facebook back when they had the chance.  Microsoft is surely dancing a jig.  (Hey Stumbleupon: love you guys, but it’s time to pack up your bags and go home.)

If I was Google, I’d give an arm and a leg for all this data.  With Microsoft being a major investor in Facebook, don’t be surprised to see this data integrated into Bing in the not-too-distant future.

Good article on Apple’s opposition to Flash

Ravi Nagarajan has a good writeup on The Real Reason Behind Apple’s Decision on iPad Flash Support (applied to iPhone/iPod, too.)  From the article:

Technologies like Flash and Silverlight allow developers to create rich content that can be delivered via a web browser. There is no gatekeeper regarding who may run such content as long as the user has a web browser that supports the plug-in technology. This open access model directly threatens Apple’s obsession with retaining tight control over what applications are allowed to run on the iPad.

Apple is so reluctant to allow users to control the software that runs on the iPad that the device even lacks such basic interfaces as a USB port. Failing to support Flash and other plug-in technologies is presented to the public as an attempt to shield users from buggy software that could cause the iPad to crash. Yet Apple seems content with supporting Flash technology for Macintosh computer systems. If Flash is so buggy, perhaps Apple should eliminate support on the Macintosh computer lines as well?

Google Buzz: Cool, but not a game-changer

Google BuzzFor several years now I’ve been lamenting the fact that social networks have been divorced from web mail.  Seems like a natural fit, right?  If you’re already logging into a site that knows who your friends are, why not help me keep in touch with those friends beyond the simple “send an email” option?

Some of you may remember that Yahoo has  been taking steps to integrate their web mail with social networking (and other daily tasks) for a while now.  Facebook wants to add mail to their social network.  Google decided to play catch up today and released Google Buzz, as covered really, really, really extensively by TechCrunch and others.

What is Google Buzz?  Imagine your Facebook feed interspersed with your email, and that’s pretty much it.  When one of your contacts updates her Google status, you’ll see it in your Gmail inbox, and you can comment on it, making it show up in her Gmail inbox again.  Adding a little jab at Foursquare, Google will also allow you to geo-tag these status updates, which makes perfect sense if you’re updating from a mobile device.

So it’s fun, it’s cool, but…it’s a couple years too late.  Most of us just finished building out our Facebook friends lists, and we have co-workers, classmates, and our parents on it now, so I don’t really need another way to announce my status updates to my contacts.  Will I use it?  Yeah, occasionally, but I have far more friends on Facebook than I have contacts on Gmail.  Not everyone uses Gmail, y’know?

This is not a new concept or a new feature, it’s just a more convenient tool for current Gmail users to keep their friends and family up-to-date.  Hopefully TechCrunch will stop flogging this as soon as the “buzz” dies down.

iPad: For the early adopter’s mom

mom-daughterSo after the iPad announcement on Wednesday, it seems like much of the tech world has been panning the iPad for not having the features they were hoping for, like a camera, multitasking, more storage, etc.

So today we’re starting to hear more voices defending the iPad, saying that it does have a reason for being, that it does have a customer, and that customer is…moms.  I first heard this from two friends of mine, then saw it on Greg Meyer’s blog, and then on Cnet and TechCrunch.  The argument goes that moms don’t like laptops because they’re too bulky to carry around, but they still want to read, do light emailing, and web browse, but a smartphone is too small for these tasks, so the iPad fills the bill.  The iPad is like the Nintendo Wii of tablets – it’s targeted at a mass market, not the hardcore like the PS3 and Xbox, so stop complaining that it doesn’t have every feature under the sun.

While this argument is tempting, it fails in a couple key places.  First, no device that fails to win the early adopters will capture mass market support.   The Wii was a hit among early adopters – primarily the under 30 set.  They put it on their wishlists, got their moms to buy it for them, and then when they realized it was so easy, they showed their moms how to use it.  It succeeded because of its simplicity, and with a lot of help from a $250 price point.

The iPad, on the other hand, looks simple, but really isn’t.  Consider a couple of every day use cases in the form of this imaginary conversation with my mom:

“Joel, I want to watch this DVD on the plane.  Can I do that on my iPad.”

“Sure, just rip the DVD on your laptop then import it into iTunes, and download it to your iPad.”

“Um…how do I do that?”

“Nevermind.  I’ll do it for you.”

“Joel, I want to store a bunch of word documents on my iPad so I can have them handy when I do my volunteer work, how do I do that?”

“Um…there’s an app for that.  I’ll do it for you.”

“Joel, I want to send the photos on my digital camera to your aunt.  Do I do that on my iPad?”

“Do you have a 30-pin to mini USB adapter or a 30-pin to SD card adapter?”

“A what?”

“Just use your laptop.”

“Joel, I want to buy an ebook and read it while I travel.”

“Well, now you’re in business.”

Ultimately, it’s a device that has a form factor and UI that may be attractive to moms, but it requires tech savvy to actually use it for anything more than what mom already does on her smartphone or laptop. So good thing mom has you, the early adopter around to help her use it.  And you’ll probably have to buy it for her, too – how many moms are going to shell out $500 on this kind of gadgetry?

So there you have it: the iPad will sell like hotcakes.  To the moms of early adopters, early adopters who are nice enough to buy it for them.  I’m sure Apple’s shareholders are pleased to hear that.

iPad fails to live up to the iPod/iPhone legacy

Apple iPadStevie Jobs yesterday announced the much-anticipated iPad, a tablet device that he says fills the gap between smartphones and laptops.  There have been a flurry of articles since then for and against the iPad, mainly focusing on what features it has or is missing, but I’d like to look at it from a higher level, looking at the product positioning and the problems it is trying to solve.

In introducing the iPad, Steve asserts that it is “better (than smartphones and laptops) at these tasks”: browsing, email, photos, video, music, games, eBooks.  But the product he then demonstrated didn’t seem to be better at any of those tasks.

  • Browsing and email: these will always be easier on a laptop that has a physical, full-size (or close to full-size) keyboard with a mouse/touchpad/pointing device. The iPad’s touchscreen does not make web-browsing or email easier, nor does its small size.  The iPad will be adequate for short email or browsing sessions, but for many of us our smartphone is already good enough for that.
  • Photos, video and music: it’s a nice photo browser, but to watch movies you’ll need some sort of stand.  The hard drive (64GB max) is too small to be good at storing any of these – it would fill up with 10 DVDs, and I know many people whose music collections alone are larger than 64GB.  To upload pictures from your camera to the iPad, you’ll need to stock up on dongles because it only has one 30-pin port for connectors (no USB).  This device (being based on iPod/iPhone software) is clearly intended to complement a laptop or PC with larger storage capacity, not replace it.
  • eBooks: this is the one application in which the iPad outshines smartphones and laptops.  And it could be argued that the addition of color (neato!) makes it better than the Kindle, but for people who read for long stretches the Kindle’s e-ink screen will still make it the better option, assuming they aren’t reading magazines or textbooks that rely on color.

Apple lost sight of the fact that tech devices must simplify our lives.  The iPod made it easy to listen to music (and later, watch movies) on the go.  The iPhone gave us a world of applications with a slick interface in our pockets.  It let us take pictures without a camera and navigate without a dedicated GPS, and it let us do a myriad of light computing tasks without a laptop.  The iPod and iPhone both revolutionized their markets and changed the way we live, but the iPad fails in this regard.

The iPad is too big to be truly mobile, and it’s too small and limited to replace a laptop.  Rather than simplifying my life, the iPad is making it more complicated – it’s a third device I have to maintain, load media onto, and buy dongles for.  And all this starts at $499?  No thank you, Apple.

Even Hitler doesn’t want one.

For more details, here’s a sampling of the extensive coverage out there:

Three cheers for Valleywag

Three cheers for Valleywag, for calling it like it is.  Comscore has been a scam for years, and now it’s downright committing blackmail.  Read the Valleywag piece for all the color, but the gist is that websites must pay Comscore $10k/mo in order to get accurately measured, and this is huge because ad buyers at all the big advertisers and agencies rely on Comscore stats (which I can vouch for from personal experience.)  Yay Valleywag, boo Comscore.

Amazon: Stop it, now

Amazon today announced that they are making an app store available for the Kindle.  What they need to do is go back to the engineers and have them crank out a color Kindle, so developers can make halfway interesting apps for it.  Mashable opines that this is “a huge development that completely changes the dynamics of the impending Tablet wars,” but when you consider that the imminent Apple tablet is sure to have an app store, a color screen, and will likely sell more units in their first year than the Kindle has sold cumulatively, this announcement amounts to squat.  There’s a reason Amazon doesn’t talk about how many Kindles they’ve sold.

Amazon knows they’re losing all their momentum to Apple, and they’re grasping at straws.  They conned EA into giving them a quote for their press release, ““Working with Amazon, we look forward to bringing some of the world’s most popular and fun games to Kindle and their users,” but what’s missing here is any mention of a specific game.  EA probably hasn’t started work on any Kindle games and may very well just wait and see if the platform is going to shape up.  They certainly won’t release any of their premier game licenses on a black and white screen.

Please move along, nothing to see here.

Looks like I’m not the only one on this bandwagon