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Delivered overnight to your doorstep: Boxes, boxes and more boxes!

piles and piles of cardboard boxes

I confess, I’ve been sucked into the Amazon Subscribe and Save program. I hate having to battle parking lots and fight the crowds at Target just to buy toilet paper and tissues. It’s so much easier to let the regular staples come to me once a month.

I also do the same with miscellaneous other items – books, the odd tool. (Between Netflix and AppleTV, I’ve cut way back on Blu-rays, and 99% of my music purchases are mp3 downloads.)

And now I find I’m living with a perpetual scourge: Empty boxes. Boxes of all sizes that I have to break down, fold up, stuff into the recycling can or somehow bundle up. And the stuffing material, which (thankfully) is mostly recyclable as well, but is bulky.

Cardboard in, cardboard out. Cardboard shredded up and pulped. Cardboard reformed into new cardboard. Rinse and repeat. Over and over and over.

Let’s have re-usable boxes!

Imagine FedEx and UPS had reusable rigid plastic (or, better, starch-fiber) tubs that they used to deliver stuff to us! You get stuff, you unload the tub, you put it out for pickup, just like empty milk bottles of the days of yore.

As our economy shifts ever more towards ordering online with delivery, we need to figure something out, because this boxes thing is getting ridiculous!

My paper recycling is picked up only twice a month. Right now I have at least two dozen boxes large and small that I need to break down for pick-up and pulping. And by the time the next pickup happens, I’ll have more boxes. Compared to this, the paper shopping bags was a pittance.

Let’s stop the madness and get with something more sustainable in the shipping business! Please?


Photo: Zakwitnij!pl Ejdzej & Iric (Creative Commons)

iPad where there was none: How Apple's new product competes against non-consumption

Once I got over the ridiculous name — and thank you, HuffPo, for sharing the Mad TV sketch that long predates the iPad announcement — I started to see how the new Apple iPad fits in the current market.

It doesn't. That's right, it doesn't. And I predict it's going to be a pretty big success, too.

Apple iPad faux pas

The iPad competes against non-consumption. There is no existing electronic device that it effectively replaces. Too big for the handbag, too small for most productive tasks, and with its touchscreen keyboard it really isn't a netbook. This is a new thing. A fun thing.

Let me explain.

Clayton Christensen has written and talked much about disruptive technologies and how they can cause dramatic shifts in existing markets, as well as open new markets altogether. One case he talks about is the advent of the transistor radio. Transistors had been around for years. The problem was that companies could not figure out how to use them in their products. You see, transistors could not take a lot of power, so they would blow out when you put them in a system requiring a lot of power to run.

Then in 1965 the portable transistor radio came out. How did they fix the problem of the transistor's low power capacity? They didn't. Instead they came up with a low-power product that actually could use transistors. Here's the thing: the product did not replace anything. It was completely new, for a new market of radio buyer. The transistor radio had no competition (except with itself). It was a hit because suddenly kids could listen to their own music. The radio itself sounded like crap, but that didn't matter because the alternative of going home and convincing mom and dad to put on rock and roll just wasn't in the cards. The transistor radio was competing against non-consumption. Before the transistor radio, people did not have an option except for home or maybe the car.

Now we have the iPad coming on the market, with its low-power, ho-hum performance processor. People are excited, but don't seem to have a strong sense of what they would actually do with an iPad. But I figure — and my hunch is that this is what Steve Jobs and company are figuring — is that the iPad will find its own place in our technology lives. It won't replace the smart phone because it's not portable. It won't replace the laptop because it's not really designed for much productivity.

No, it's for something new: The casual online consumption of media, away from the computer, free of the television, and with no dead trees to think about.

I see the iPad as becoming the morning newspaper, the weekly and monthly magazine, the video screener — and yes, the means to stay connected via social networks, email, etc. while you're doing all these other things.

When you go to work, the iPad will stay at home. When you go to a conference, the iPad will stay at home. In fact, for many people, I imagine the iPad will never leave the kitchen table.

That's why the mobile connectivity is only a pre-pay option, and not at all emphasized. Because this is a device that will live off of your home wifi.

Are you wanting an iPad?

I find myself wanting an iPad to read the news in the morning. It would be nice for magazines, too, I think. Of course I'm assuming that the usability will be very good. Maybe I'm wrong.

But I think the iPad will be a big success.

What do you think? Is the iPad a must-have device for you?

No, Google is not a monopoly

First, some context

Henry Porter, an opinionator granted a regular podium by the Guardian, has written a bit of a rant claiming that we're victims of Google, a "monopoly."

Google presents a far greater threat to the livelihood of individuals and the future of commercial institutions important to the community. One case emerged last week when a letter from Billy Bragg, Robin Gibb and other songwriters was published in the Times explaining that Google was playing very rough with those who appeared on its subsidiary, YouTube. When the Performing Rights Society demanded more money for music videos streamed from the website, Google reacted by refusing to pay the requested 0.22p per play and took down the videos of the artists concerned.

It does this with impunity because it is dominant worldwide and knows the songwriters have nowhere else to go. Google is the portal to a massive audience: you comply with its terms or feel the weight of its boot on your windpipe.

The article is full of these kinds of claims, all largely based on what seems to be either a complete misunderstanding of the nature of the Web, or a lack of understanding of the word "monopoly."

The core of Porter's ignorance, willful or not, is revealed in this statement:

Despite its diversification, Google is in the final analysis a parasite that creates nothing, merely offering little aggregation, lists and the ordering of information generated by people who have invested their capital, skill and time.

This is true only if you think that things exist on their own, and that their relationships to you, their relationships to each other, do not exist, or are not worth looking at, let alone making available for use -- let alone making relevant to our day-to-day lives.

Google provides a means of finding relevance in that sea of stuff out there on the Web. It's like a mega-index of the "book" of the Web. That relevance was largely hidden from us before search engines. To find relevance, one had to ask friends, browse libraries, analyze the Dewey Decimal System, dig up Yellow Pages, rummage through desk drawers to find that one tidbit of information you want right now.

That is hardly "nothing."

In 1787 Thomas Jefferson wrote: "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate to prefer the latter."

Thomas Jefferson was also against a strong judiciary, which in hindsight sounds pretty foolish, imho. But Jefferson aside, there's no indication that what newspapers are in function -- delivery systems for filtered information -- is not going anywhere. It's just the newspaper industry, and the infrastructure and market that enabled the paper to be printed, that is going away. News is still happening. It's just that how we're getting it is changing.

There is a brattish, clever amorality about Google that allows it to censor the pages on its Chinese service without the slightest self doubt, store vast quantities of unnecessary information about every Google search, and menace the delicate instruments of democratic scrutiny.

I don't like how US-owned search engine companies are going along with the Chinese Government's restrictions on the Internet, either, but let's be clear: It's the Chinese government that is censoring the Internet. Google is going along with it, along with much of the rest of the American economy, let's face it. This is about corporate collaboration with government constraints on what we consider "American values," and not about a Google monopoly or how Google is anything but pretty darned typical these days.

Whither Twitter? Silicon Valley businesses pressured to do business

Every morning I reach for my iPhone to get the latest news from Bloomberg. (I'd probably go to the NY Times first, but their app is still far too unstable and slow to be of much use.) This morning, one headline jumped out at me:

Twitter Shuns Venture-Capital Money as Startup Values Plunge

Well I had to read that article. And it seems to hint at the piercing of the Silicon Valley Bubble -- not a floating bubble leading to a crash, but rather the isolation bubble, like Bubble Boy. What? Silicon Valley is Bubble Boy?

Evan Williams raised $22 million in funding for Twitter Inc., a Web site used by everyone from Britney Spears to Starbucks Corp. to Barack Obama. Sales? Those could come later -- that was, until the economy tanked.

Twitter may charge companies for access to its users so it doesn't have to ask venture capitalists for more cash, said Williams, the company's chief executive officer. As the value of Internet companies plunges this year, investors are asking for a bigger chunk of the startups they invest in.

"The VCs have the money, but they'll just negotiate harder," said Williams, who sold his previous venture, Blogger, to Google Inc. in 2003. "I want to manage things so I don't have to raise money in 2009."

In the rest of the tech world, and in the business world in general, making money is the first goal. No matter what else you are trying to achieve with your business, you need to make money so you can do the other things you want to do.

Which brings me to the Bubble. Silicon Valley has been this odd duck in the business world: An entire metropolitan region driven largely by R&D. In the Silicon Valley Bubble, the demands upon most businesses regarding sales revenues are largely removed from the environment. The dominant business model? Raise capital, then burn that capital in development of the FooBar Widget (as an imaginary example), hoping you get bought by Google or Microsoft before you run out of money. The real product is not the FooBar Widget, it's the company itself, and the targeted buyer is a new media or tech corporation with deep pockets and a hunger for new ideas.

It's a wonderful sub-economy, this Bubble, if you think about it. And necessary to cultivate many kinds of innovation.

Matt Marshall is blunt:

Last time, circa 2001, the entire VC industry got a “get-out-jail-free card” after the Internet bubble burst. That’s because the scores of new firms created in the late 1990s argued they should be forgiven for any poor performance — it was the bubble’s fault, and everyone was affected. Their investors — chief among them, the elite university endowments –agreed, and gave the VC firms more money to invest again. With most VC funds lasting for ten years, this ensured the VCs a very long life indeed.

He predicts that half the VCs will go under in the current economic turndown.

Barak Rabinowitz has an interesting post on how this paradigm shift is happening in the face of an un-tapped market.

There’s an elephant in the room of online advertising. An elephant in the shape of 400 million social networkers creating and consuming content, clustering around shared interests and activities — all who have yet to be tapped in any major way by web marketers.

Barack Obama, John McCain and Net Neutrality

Change is coming. In fact, if you look over the past 15 years it's already here: the Internet. What it is now, with blogs and social networks, software-as-a-service and 'net-enabled applications, bears scant resemblance to what it was like in 1995. Think about how much it has changed just since you got on the net. No question: the Internet is evolving faster and faster. Do we know what it will look like in 15 years? Ten years? A year from now?

No. The Internet is changing too fast too fast.

Why Net Neutrality is important

The phrase "Net Neutrality" itself is unfortunate because, alliteration aside, it doesn't really have punch, but it's very important. Liza Sabater describes it as "digital civil rights." It's a clear concept when you talk about governmental control of the Internet. China, with the collaboration of its state-run ISPs and American search engine companies, has already demonstrated that control and censorship of the Internet is already possible.

Alistair Croll points out that ISPs have increasing capability to control what users can access:

There are a lot of bad things on the Internet: spam, child porn, malware, phishing and so on. Until recently, it’s been up to people to protect themselves, using security software or web site blocking. Lately, however, governments and legislators have been calling for service providers to limit where users can go, both to stop criminal activity and to protect naïve surfers from straying onto malicious sites. Recent advances in DNS may soon let carriers comply with such regulations.

In June, three major carriers agreed to purge child pornography hosted on servers their customers operate in their data centers. Having signed New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s Internet code of conduct, every major U.S. ISP has also agreed to eliminate access to certain newsgroups. It’s not just in the U.S., either: Australia’s hotly debated Plan for Cyber Safety blocks content that isn’t child-friendly. Subscribers can opt out, but they’ll still be blocked from content the government deems illegal.

What about in cases of control and censorship of Internet content by corporations for non-government-manded reasons?

Claire, of the Hawaii LRB Library, gives a thumbnail:

Network neutrality is generally the concept of ensuring "unfettered access to the Internet" by regulating owners of Internet networks. CRS notes that the two most common discriminatory actions against net neutrality are "the network providers’ ability to control access to and the pricing of broadband facilities, and the incentive to favor network-owned content, thereby placing unaffiliated content providers at a competitive disadvantage."

It's this latter part -- "incentive to favor network-owned content, thereby placing unaffiliated content providers at a competitive disadvantage" -- that explains the concern of every website owner who does not control a piece of the Internet backbone.

Alice Marshall puts it in the context of the tech economy:

New signage on the building

pingVision signage

pingVision building

Now it somehow feels more official.

So the Times sees it as a "women's issue," like shoes and handbags?

Oh my, not again. Via Elisa's Worker Bees Blog:

A couple of months ago, prompted by Mary Hodder, I blogged about the NY Times and its odd placement of a technology story about girl geeks in the Fashion & Style section.

Well, they're at it again. And this time it is even more egregious. Check the article Diversity Isn’t Rocket Science, Is It? In the Fashion & Style section.

The article itself is quite provocative....

Based on data from 2,493 workers (1,493 women and 1,000 men) polled from March 2006 through October 2007 and hundreds more interviewed in focus groups, the report paints a portrait of a macho culture where women are very much outsiders, and where those who do enter are likely to eventually leave....

The problem isn’t that women aren’t making strides in education in the hard sciences....

And, women enter science engineering and technology (known as the SET professions) in sizable numbers....

An exodus occurs around age 35 to 40. Fifty-two percent drop out, the report warned, with some leaving for “softer” jobs in the sciences human resources rather than lab bench work, for instance, and others for different work entirely. That is twice the rate of men in the SET industries, and higher than the attrition rate of women in law or investment banking....

The 147-page report (which was sponsored by Alcoa, Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, Pfizer and Cisco) is filled with tales of sexual harassment (63 percent of women say they experienced harassment on the job); and dismissive attitudes of male colleagues (53 percent said in order to succeed in their careers they had to “act like a man”); and a lack of mentors (51 percent of engineers say they lack one); and hours that suit men with wives at home but not working mothers (41 percent of technology workers says they need to be available “24/7”).

...which makes one wonder why the New York Times editors felt they had to stick the article in the fashion section and not in the news section or technology or even business section.

Maybe they thought only women would -- or should -- be interested.

Apple's in the wrong, but Safari really is the better browser

As a citizen and computer user, I agree that Apple is wrong to push Safari on Windows users:

Debate is raging today over the news that Steve Jobs has made good on his summertime promise and is now sending Apple's browser Safari along for the ride when Windows users are prompted to update iTunes or Quicktime.

Users can deselect the additional software download, but let's be realistic - there's got to be millions of people unwittingly downloading Safari onto their computers right now. Downloading software has to be opt-in, not opt-out.

As a web developer, however, I am quietly thrilled that there's a real possibility that a significant number of people will stop using the crapware Internet Explorer -- especially IE6, which cannot die a soon enough death, in my book. Microsoft's browser has been a huge sap on productivity in web development, thanks to its continued refusal to adopt CSS standards.

So "boo" to Apple, but a bigger and pre-existing "BOO" to Microsoft. Here I prefer the lesser of two boos.

It's not Choice, Seth, it's Voice

Seth Godin is worth reading because he so frequently comes up with some interesting insights about this modern world that's evolving and growing before our eyes. But I think here he gets it this wrong:

If I had to pick one word to describe what's new, what's different and what's important about now vs. then, it would be "choice."

The choice of more products.
The choice of more retailers. Many a click away.
The choice of more consumers to ask for an opinion.
The choice by marketers over who to market to (precision increases).
The choice of workers to be virtual or flexible or change careers.

He goes on with some for-instances.

The thing is, I don't see choice as being some "new" 21st-century phenomenon. In fact, in many ways, there's less choice today than there was 25 years ago. There may seem to be more banks around, but what I've been seeing is massive bank consolidations. The local banks in my area are being absorbed by -- or absorbing -- other banks. I can buy insurance for my company from any number of brokers, but they're all selling the same thing, often the same underwriters, especially when it comes to health insurance. There may appear to be more credit card offers out there, but these companies have been consolidating so rapidly, I think I have one single card in my purse that has not merged and changed names in the past 2-3 years.

Bob Warfield takes on Seth's idea and riffs a bit on "scarce," as if it were the opposite of "choice," but then points out:

The web moves in punctuated equilibrium. Most of the time, choice is illusory. It consists of thousands of minor variations on what are just a few common themes. Most people crave consistency, because they can’t handle too many real choices. And yet thousands of minor variations are strangely unsatisfying. We can invest all the time, seek all the answers, work hard to get to depth, and we’re left wanting more, or at least wondering if this is it. Delivering something deeply different to break us out of the drone of all that mundane choice is valuable.

Seth does hit on one thing, though: "More choice in who to listen to (and who to ignore)."

That's true. However, I feel that is only a symptom of the real paradigm shift in our economy and culture today:

Voice.

Every day, in the "old media" of traditional broadcasting and newspapers, we see closed-minded -- and I'd say willfully ignorant -- attitudes expressed about how unimportant blogging and social media are. But they are speaking from platforms that are feeling a bit disempowered by the new media.

The new media are what have given people their voice. And it's not just that now we can hear what people used to just shout back at the television. We (the people) are changing. It's amazing what happens when you get a sense that maybe, this time, when you speak out you will be heard. That's profound. It's revolutionary.

People can talk back. Talk back to companies. Talk back to politicians. And, most important, talk to each other. We have more choices to listen to because we have more people saying things.

We have voice.

What do you say?

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