Sometimes It's Just Thinking Intelligently

ROI ROI ROI. (Which if you're French-speaking is king king king, but in the media/ad world is "return on investment.") A surprisingly vague term which basically means somehow getting more money from the stuff you advertise or spend on than the money you put in. Notoriously hard to figure out. But an obsession in today's digital media/measurability world.

Over on Congoo, where I've probably posted for the last time this year, I wrote of the steps MediaEdge took for a large retailer to get customers to take action based on where they were in the buying process for a large consumer item. Really, what the folks at MediaEdge did was simply think it through: If someone's searching a generic term like "washing machine" they're earlier in the process than if they search a specific brand name. So, for the former you give more information, and a way to get them interested, and for the latter you hit them with more of a "buy now" kind of message, perhaps discounting or other types of actionable
information, like where and how to find a store and buy the machine, call an 800 number and so on. It's smart, and really comes down to adding intelligence -- as in human thinking -- to the machine bits and bytes process.

That's the kind of high-end work people are supposed to do. And sometimes, it's really simple if you just think a bit.

As We Were Saying About Apple's Rise ...

Here's a picture from the Apple Store on Fifth Ave from Christmas day, from SAI, reinforcing both their point and ours about how the stores are a stroke of genius and Apple will come on stronger next year.

There's also intelligent commenting on the post below about why Apple WON'T become the big enterprise solution any time soon. Granted, as the second commenter says, that Microsoft is a software company. But he(?) also points out that that Apple should make gains in the college market. And as I pointed out, there's more growth in small than large businesses. Overall, I see a trend toward Apple. A hardware company, yes, but so intertwined with software as to be a software marketer, as well. With a huge brand. "Nobody ever got fired for choosing Microsoft," perhaps. But at a certain point, could Apples become as safe a choice, if Microsoft machines become perceived as too cumbersome, too virus-laden, too difficult to refit , too expensive to frequently upgrade and reconfigure?

Apple Gaining Ground

I agree with Henry Blodget that the Apple is gaining ground in computers. The reasons go beyond the ones he states -- that the "network effect" of Microsoft is waning due to the increasing number of applications like mail and Google docs based on the Web. (I noted in comments on his site, Silicon Alley Insider, that a number of apps, even Web based ones like the Netflix movie viewer, some sports event media viewing over the Internet and a bunch of business software still require Windows and/or Windows Media to run. (Fortunately for the new Apples, they can run Windows, though I've found the process of loading it a bit cumbersome -- and expensive, potentially.)

Some more reasons I see Apple gaining ground, largely from my own experience running a small business, but also working in a lot of larger corporate environments:

- The machines, as their marketing says, just plain work. I've got friends and acquaintances and professional relationships with PC technicians, and so by now I'm pretty familiar with the ins and outs of getting around a Windows-based machine to make it work, anything from defragging to dumping programs that are hogging memory, to adding more memory and other things -- but I find that even my tech friends are often stumped as to what is making a PC belch or hiccup. (One of my Windows laptops is being wiped clean and reloaded with the basic software as I type this because it's too onerous to figure out what the heck is wrong. Spyware? System glitch?) I've paid tech support at both Best Buy and Circuit City, but they're not as responsive and don't give the thorough answers and elbow grease effort of guys at the Mac store, where I've bought Apple Care and OnetoOne lessons. If you have a tech dept that you can hand your computer over too for a couple hours every day of the week whenever something's wrong, PCs might be better. But for ...
- An increasing number of people who are on their own in one way or another and can't afford to spend so much of our time hassling with tech issues. The small business economy is growing (job growth in small outpaces large) and don't have big tech depts. We need things that just work.
- The Apples and the software we put on them just work in many instances because things are tested and approved and can generally just plug in and make something run. There are fewer options with Apple -- they only sell, maybe, a half-dozen laptop models, for example -- but that control has the "up" side of consistency. They Apple folks basically know what to look for with whatever malfunction there might be, can figure out how to make programs work across machines and operating systems, and can give clear rather than ambiguous answers. Yes, you CAN run that monitor off that computer, or NO, we don't support three monitors on one machine. It might not have as much ability to manipulate in multiple ways, but for someone like me simplicity helps.
- Software, too tends to work generally the same way no matter the application. Similar commands, a lot of the same utility.
- Plus, a lot of software comes loaded on the Mac. Sure, Apple might cost $1000 compared to a PC that costs $300 or $400, but when you add up the software you get -- legitimately -- Apple comes through very strong. Movie editing, sound editing, picture grabbing, and so on. And their version of Office, iWorks, comes with perfectly good programs that in some cases make things very easy, for example converting a text document to a PDF. And it's cheaper than Microsoft Office.
- The new Apple stores are a great support system. For $99 per year, I can go in there every week and throw questions at a dedicated person for an hour, then spend 20 minutes with a "genius" to ask more pointed tech questions. They try really hard to solve the issues I've had (everything from Entourage -- the Microsoft version of Outlook for the Mac -- not synching properly to issues with slowness booting up. It's not perfect, and there have been glitches, but compared to what I could get from Windows lapstops I bought at Circuit City and Best Buy, there's no comparison. CC, in fact, gave me the runaround when they Acer they sold me died (twice) and always kept trying to charge me more to do things like defrag my disk, back up the hard drive and so on.
- The commercials are funny partly becuase there's truth to them. Now, I don't have a half-beard, and I think my persona is more a Bill Gates than a Steve Jobs (look at my nerdy pants and shirts, and pocket protector), but I want something that works easily and well.
- The Apple Stores are a stroke of genius. There's a consistency to them, if not perfection, which is unlike anywhere else for retail computer service. Even if buy computer and all software from the one store -- which virtually impossible -- with Windows, I could never get so many people to attack a problem knowledgeably. Where could I, in one spot, get someone to both teach me how to network my computer, do complex word processing, help me synch my email, get a workaround the frustrating DRM restrictions on a video iPod, AND build a Web site -- all in one place. Many of the courses are even free.

In short (and I'm sorry for going on so long), Apple is building its own "network effect," people like me to evangelize, the stores that are much more than sales and therefore a stroke of genius for marketing and keeping people like me in the fold. They've put free apps on the computer like iChat that make it easy to talk to others with Apple, and make it easy for Apples to share calendars and files and other things over a .Mac account that costs $69/year.

Now, some dangers and downsides.
- The cultishness can be a downside. People at the Apple store seemed trained (or brainwashed?) to never say anything that would acknowledge any inferiority of an Apple product. If you point out something better than a PC they'll pile on. If you point out something you wish the Apple could do (like access certain Web sites noted above), they might just pretend you never said it. I have heard from more than one tech person or bizdev exec about Apple people's arrogance vs. Microsoft peole's eagerness to fix things.

For example, Leopard's got some problems. (One important reason I paid, I think, $69 for a yearly subscription to a .Mac internet access account was for the "Back to My Mac" function, mimicking the "Go to My PC" software that's supposed to let me access a computer from anywhere over the Internet. Only, it doesn't work. Leopard's also turned some peoples' computers into blue-screened bricks, and taken hours and hours of peoples' time.) If Apple works at lightning speed to ackonwoledge the issues and fix them, then it will keep picking up speed and market share.

- Lack of openness on the software side. The locked nature of the iPhone kept me and many other people from buying one. I like GSM networks because you can unlock a phone and use it on another GSM network. Only not iPhone -- not without voiding the warranty, anyway. Apple should open up, and also allow more developers to work on Apple.

- Money, cost, etc. While they're not as rapacious as the service desk at Circuit City -- asking me to give $60 to push a few buttons I could push myself -- they do seem to fairly frequently suggest I spend another $60, or $70 or $129 dollars, and sometimes that amount is for a yearly subscription of some sort, so they'll get a lot more out of me than the one purchase. OK, what do I expect, to get great service and product for free? And it is a STORE, right? But, still, I think there has to be a little softer on the "sell" for someone like me who's recently forked over thousands of dollars and a little harder on the "service."

Still, I wouldn't short Apple stock, and I wouldn't even be surprised, if they can find good fixes to Leopard and make sure it has all the networking and other capabilities it's supposed to have, if Apple starts to make inroads in the traditionally Microsoft-beholden corporate suites.

Entrepreneurial Journalism is No Oxymoron (II)

Mark Glaser calls the entrepreneurial acumen of journalists into question, but most start-ups fail, in any industry. He and others in comments give examples of those who’ve succeeded. This on the heels of Jeff Jarvis’ entrepreneurial journalism contest, which, if it works, will help seed a new generation of journalists not encumbered by the need to have a “job”. I’ve taken a fairly traditional route, myself, getting an MBA before becoming truly entrepreneurial. But then, I’m 1 or 2 generations away from most of the folks proposing projects to Jarvis’ contest.

There are a few advantages they have over some of the older folks like Dan Gilmor or Bill Scoble that Glaser sites as having failed, chiefly that they are not as wedded to older ideas of what a journalist is or can be, and don’t necessarily think of “entrepreneurial journalism” as an oxymoron. Some may say that true journalism can’t be entrepreneurial, because a journalist should not have commercial concerns. (If you worry about whether to put an ad on your site, or where, that will affect how you display the content, for example.) And the anxiety of being laid off can be debilitating, while the sense of charting one’s own destiny and earning money from folks who are actually consuming the product, rather than an in-between entity, can be liberating.

There is something else that can be a challenge for many journalists: I’ve found successful entrepreneurs to be relentless optimists, skilled socially (at least when necessary), willing to make hard choices even when it’s not fair, and not being stopped by unfairness directed at them. Journalists, but contrast, are often a bit negatively oriented, and gripe about things that haven’t gone well -- newsrooms are full of, if not malcontents, certainly half-contents. Then, again, so are many workplaces. There is a such thing as a postive-minded journalist, and I hope entrepreneurial journalism isn’t an oxymoron.

DRM Neuros-is

Neuros, which brought us the OSD machine that's supposed to make it easy to record any digital media, then play it on any device, has released their new "Unlocked" standard they hope will catch fire.

Customers disagree about how good the OSD is, and how easy to use (which probably means it's a techie device that techies like), but the concept can't help but take hold, eventually. People want control of their music, movies, TV shows, etc. Why should you (or I?) be prevented from watching whatever, however and wherever I want? This is why I have PocketMac -- to more easily get stuff from my Mac to my Windows Mobile handheld -- why I put things on DVD, why I connect my computers and share files, and why I get pissed off every time I try to plug my daughter's video iPod into a machine other than the one it was originally synced to. (Apple tells me I'll have to wipe it clean to sync it up, when all I really want to do is drag one or two things I legitimately have on or off to or from another machine.) These kinds of restrictions piss off a lot of people, and while I understand the need and desire to protect, I also think openness over time will be a huge pull.

How to Choose a Content Management System

Yes, this is a commercial post, touting a paper I've helped create on

"Choosing the Right Content Management System for Your Web Site(s), Plus: When and How to Build Your Own".

It's a great instructional manual for the business or editorial manager at a digital property looking for checklists, straight talk and a list of 14 of the most popular CMS systems and more than 50 of their attributes. It's a must-have tool if you're trying to decide what CMS to buy, or lead a team that will be doing it together. Lead writer Amy Webb has a wealth of information about content management systems; she's forgotten more about them than most of us will ever know.

You can get a rather full excerpt and buy the paper at

How to Choose a Content Management System

Yes, this is a commercial post, touting a paper I've helped created on

"Choosing the Right Content Management System for Your Web Site(s), Plus: When and How to Build Your Own".

It's a great instructional manual for the business or editorial manager at a digital property looking for checklists, straight talk and a list of 14 of the most popular CMS systems and more than 50 of their attributes. It's a must-have tool if you're trying to decide what CMS to buy, or lead a team that will be doing it together. Lead writer Amy Webb has a wealth of information about content management systems; she's forgotten more about them than most of us will ever know.

You can get an excerpt and buy the paper at

'If Media VPs Had Any Sense ...'

"But," says the small business owner after media magnate Larry Tisch shows some admiration, "How can you be impressed with what I'm doing, working for myself with this small business? I've got two employees. You've got 10,000 people and a floor full of vice presidents.

"If any of these vice presidents were worth anything, they'd be in business for themselves instead of working for me," Tisch said, according to the business owner, who recounted the exchange to me today.

How Could a Newspaper Compete with This?

Just now, minutes after the WSJ sent out an alert about the George Mitchell baseball drug report, someone put up a list of the players names on Wikipedia. I saw it on public Twitter while randomly visiting the public page there.

Wow. How can a newspaper hope to compete with that? And why wouldn't a newspaper, to save effort, simply -- assuming the list is accurate -- link to it? Journalistically, I can see the rationale of wanting to control the accuracy and therefore keep it on the newspaper's site. There will be tons of lists in tons of publications (hats off to any that add value). ... But, the speed of the list by what seemed to be a private individual, and on Wikipedia to allow other fervent folks to correct it - that's something that proves the power of community and individuals. (And one more caveat: I'll bet you that some Web editors -- you know who you are! -- will copy and paste that list without saying they did so.)

CNET Shuts Down Its Reader

Could this be a sign that there's not enough room in the market for all the feed readers? (I know I'm not alone in wondering why we need so many different ones, and when the shakeout would come.) has, they say in an email, decided to turn off Newsburst, their attempt at a feed reader page.

Here's the text of the email.

Dear Newsburst user,

We're writing to let you know that as of December, 31 2007, we
will be shutting down Newsburst, CNET's Web-based feed reader.

We will provide a link to export your feed sources so that
you can import your feeds into another Web-based or desktop RSS
feed reader.

Just log in to Newsburst and look for the 'Download OPML' link at
the top of the page.

Why Locking and DRM Ultimately Won’t Work

Lots of comments on the NYTimes’ Bits blog answering Saul Hansell’s question from a few days ago about whether people would pay extra for a DVD-like version of a movie to be put on an iPod. The consensus in the comments seems to be “no”. While I think the convenience might be worth it, I can understand why. I sometimes use a VCR rather than DVR, for example, because of the ease with which I can tape something in one room and watch in the next (without going through a lot of sturm und drung about how to set up system transfers, networked TV, etc. Not to mention the cost.) That’s a similar reason I watch some TV shows, like 30 Rock or Everybody Hates Chris on the computer rather than the TV: I can watch them on the laptop when exercising or in bed, or watch on my bigger iMac desktop, if I want a bigger screen or to enjoy it with more people. To me, DVDs are the best for this reason, as well, including for many TV shows. After all, what good is digital technology if it’s locked up, or you can only watch on one device.

And that’s kind of the point that many of the commenters on the Bits blog make. This one, for example, makes the point that anyone “under 30” (or, I’d say, over 40 ;) who can use Version Tracker) can find software to rip a DVD and watch on any device that can handle whatever standard it is. That way you’re not locked into one device. (Information, even if it’s a movie, wants to be free, in spirit if not in fact.)

Another point on the Bits post: Over here, on Congoo, I posted about whether Amazon is taking it to Apple, not only in selling music, but also because the Kindle is a device, and that starts to get into iPhone territory. Now, I see in the Bits post another posit about Amazon vs. Apple. Amazon, Hansell writes, may be a force in getting more movie studios into iTunes. “Remember,” he writes, “that Amazon’s entry into the MP3 business put pressure on Apple to lower the price of its unprotected downloads.”

Entrepreneurial Journalism is No Oxymoron

When I first saw on Jeff Jarvis’ Facebook page that he was assembling the jury for his “entrepreneurial journalism” contest, I quipped that what used to be an oxymoron is now worthy of a prize. Wonderful, isn’t it, that students in J-school now can ask for a few thousand bucks to start their own publishing businesses. Jarvis points to a post by NYTimes’ Saul Hansell, one of the judges, who says that no one starting out in journalism should ask advice of anyone who’s been in the business more than five years.

Fair enough. The ideas Hansell mentions -- a hyper-local site for Brooklyn's perennially troubled Bed-Sty neighborhood, a magazine for Muslim women, etc. -- are great niche ideas. I do find myself wondering where the business model for supporting deep, investigative journalism comes from. Perhaps, from the same place it comes from now: Other "verticals" like business, tech -- and perhaps a bunch of ad-supported hyper-local blogs and community apps -- that make enough profit to pay the expensive journalistic productions.

The Perfectly Targeted Ad

In meat space, I was subjected quite by accident to the perfectly targeted ad, for a Staples' grand opening in walking distance just when I needed printer cartridges. For me, at that one moment, that was effective advertising, on the front of a giveaway newspaper. But what was the chance of others happening by that newspaper with the same need as I? Isn't online more effective, and a better gauge and likely predictor?

Kindle, Some Final Words

Went to an party in midtown Manhattan this evening, and found the execs refreshingly open to the idea that the Kindle could be improved. (More details of that here.) Looking at the Newsweek cover story, again, I see that CEO Jeff Bezos, too, was open -- for example, he said he would be willing to consider letting the book-reading device take in e-books borrowed from a library.

The story also pointed out a cool potential feature I hadn’t considered: When there’s a mistake in a book, someone could “reach inside” and automatically update the versions that are on the Kindles without having to print a new edition. (Of course, that also raises the scary specter of having someone update a book to remove undesirable or censored info.)