Thursday, April 30, 2009


We all know how painful it can be sometimes to try and schedule things with other folks via email - especially those outside your office and/or company for work-related things like meetings, conference calls, lunches, etc. If your experience is anything like mine, it take at least 3-4 back and forth emails to settle on a date and time that works -- and that's just when trying to schedule something with just one other person that's in the same vicinity or time zone. Multiply that by 2 for every additional person involved in the process and you get the picture.

I recently came across a company by the name of TimeBridge that offers a consumer-friendly (and more importantly, free!) meeting schedule product that is entirely web-based and allows you to not only integrate it with office-based calendars like Outlook but, more importantly, with home-based calendars like Google or iCal. There's also a business version, which I assume has some kind of price tag associated with it.

The process is pretty simple -- sign up for an account, create a meeting proposal - which includes selecting/suggesting days and times for the event, send it out to your intended recipients and wait for them to get back to you. Once everyone is on board the invite can be integrated into your calendaring system of choice (assuming it's one of the three mentioned above) and you're all set.

Feel free to send any and all feedback about the product once you've given it a try - I think you'll find it worthwhile.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


I'm sure some of you have already seen this new mobile communication device called The Peek - but for those of you who haven't, let me be the first to give you my two cents about it . . . don't bother.

What is it you ask? Quite simply, it's a portable device that is 100% dedicated to emailing and texting. According to their CEO Amol Sarva, there are a ton of people out there who want a simple to use (it only takes a few minutes to set up) and affordable ($49.95 for the device and $19.95 a month with no contracts) device that allows them to stay in touch on the go - but without having the ability to actually call and talk to people.

Don't get me wrong, it's a pretty slick looking device - and I'm sure that there will be folks out there for whom this is a perfect fit. But I personally think that there are a number of factors working against it, including:

1. Device Fatigue -- as we continue to be bombarded with more and more choices when it comes to portable devices (cell phones, smart phones, digital cameras, laptops, netbooks, etc.), at the end of the day most people want to simplify their lives and pare down on the number of devices (and power cords) they use and have with them at all times. And more likely than not, these same people will be willing to pay a premium for the convenience of less devices.

2. Email Is Becoming Less and Less Relevant -- we can't deny that we're in an age of immediacy that is being driven, in large part, by the continuing proliferation and use of telephony and texting functions associated with pretty much all cell phones these days - not to mention the meteoric rise of social communication tools like Twitter and Facebook. As a result, email is being used more and more as a third or fourth option when it comes to communication. So when faced with the choice of having a device that allows you to talk and text (in addition to a handful of other bells and whistles), or one that lets you just text and email, chances are you'll choose the former.

3. Price -- while 20 bucks a month is definitely a good deal, the reality is that most people are still willing to pay a bit more for a portable device that fits the criteria mentioned in #2, in addition to having other utilitarian features such as a camera and Internet access (through which, by the way, you can also access and use email). And it's safe to assume that pricing on mobile phone services from the carriers will only continue to go down.

Long story short -- extremely slick looking device with a price point and service that may appeal to an extremely small group of consumers, but at the end of the day, less is more when it comes to devices.

Friday, April 10, 2009


For better or worse, I've been a loyal user of Yahoo! for a lot of my basic web services - email, photos (through Flickr) and RSS feeds (through My Yahoo!). Some people say that it's almost as passee as having an AOL account, and while there are times in the past that I've agreed with those folks, I'm here to tell you that I haven't been prouder to be a Yahoo! user than I am right now. And the reason for that is their newly launched Connected TV initiative, which made quite a splash earlier this year at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

As you'll quickly see, Connected TV is representative of the first real steps towards bringing a full Internet experience to a television set. Yahoo! is choosing to do this by integrating a now-common web product called "widgets" into the on-screen experience, all with just the touch of a button. Through the Yahoo! TV Widgets, users will be able to access an endless library of web services from not only Yahoo! but also from other services like Twitter, CBS, eBay, Netflix and the New York Times. For those of you interested, here is a video demo of the TV Widgets in action.

What I like about what Yahoo! is doing here is that they are creating a very simple and intuitive way to introduce the consumer public to the idea of having access to the Internet through a television using existing hardware -- basically the TV itself and the remote that comes with it. There are no additional set-top boxes to purchase, no keyboard to use and the user is in control of customizing the way the widgets are presented on the screen relative to the TV program that's on the screen.

The main drawback of the Yahoo! offering is that it's probably not something that you can add to your existing TV set. Having said that, there's no reason why your cable/satellite provider couldn't offer something similar through their service. My provider (Verizon FiOS) already has a widget offering in its menu, but it's pretty weak compared to what Yahoo! is offering, so hopefully they'll get their act together . . . and soon!

And for those of you that want a deeper dive on the subject of Internet on your TV and see what today's industry leaders are saying about the promise of tomorrow, a good place to start is this January New York Times article which covered the topic in the context of the CES show.

It really is a brave new world!

Thursday, April 09, 2009


There are very few things that exist in the digital media space that I would put in the category of being a pet peeve of mine -- but this is definitely at the top of my list, and my rant on this has been a long time in coming.

In all the years that I've observed and been involved in the mobile web (aka WAP for you industry aficionados), I have never understood why any company/brand/publisher/media company would use anything other than the traditional ".com" top-level domain their mobile web destination URL. As we've all seen, there have been a whole host of mobile-specific top-level domains and URLs that have been, and continue to be, employed and marketed to consumers with web-enabled mobile phones -- for example:

* (e.g.,
* -- (e.g.,
* -- (e.g.,

For those of us in the mobile space, I ask you -- isn't the ultimate goal here to educate the consumer public that the web is the web is the web -- regardless of whether you use a PC, a mobile phone, a game console or a TV to access it? Doesn't the mere presence of different URLs just add to the confusion rather than address and remedy it? I definitely think it does. And from a business perspective, I'd prefer to funnel all my web traffic, regardless of where it comes from, through one domain so that I can get credit for the audience and also better monetize them.

Sure the visual experience for the consumer will be different across these screens, but as true convergence continues to become a reality through increased proliferation of smartphones with a more robust web experience as well as the promise of Internet to the TV screen, those differences will continue to diminish. And in the meantime, let's all agree that the K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid!) approach is probably the best one here. Just use your existing ".com" URL for your mobile web site -- and make sure to ask whoever is helping you develop it to make sure an put in that one line of code on your web server that automatically detects whether someone is trying to access your site from a mobile phone so that that the correct site is rendered. It's that simple!

So say YES to ".com" and NO to everything else -- who else is with me?!

Monday, April 06, 2009


I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that pretty much all of us have, at one time or another, wanted to throw our cell phones out the window after having a call drop for the 100th time while talking on it in our homes. Well have no fear, a technology called femtocells (don't ask me where they came up with that name!) is coming to a neighborhood store near you -- hopefully sooner rather than later.

So what exactly are femtocells? In a nutshell, they're super small versions of cell towers (also known as "access point base stations") that are housed in a piece of hardware that looks like your standard home Internet modem. In some cases they will come pre-installed with an Internet modem -- mostly in those cases where you have a provider (e.g., AT&T, Verizon, etc.) who your cell phone and home Internet service. If that's not the case, then you'll likely need to get a sepate box -- either way these femtocells use existing high speed Internet connection in your home. From what I can tell, the current versions that are in development will be able to support 2-4 cell phones in one location, and they'll operate much like a home Wi-Fi environment in that you'll be able to "lock" your network and limit access so that you don't have folks camped outside your house poaching your signal.

As of last year, Sprint was the first carrier here in the U.S. to make the service (called "Airave") available nationwide -- for those of you interested you can see get more info on their web site here. AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon are apparently in the trial phase and should be rolling out their femtocell services sometime this year. And since I haven't tried these services yet, I can't really vouch for how well (or not!) they work.

So if you haven't already chucked that cell phone out your living room window, you now have even more reason than ever to hold on to it!

If you have any suggestions on topics to be covered as part of this T.A.P. series, drop me a line at


I don't know about you, but for years now I've been one of those people that family and friends call up with questions about pretty much anything and everything having to do with technology -- I guess the thinking is that since I've been in businesses involving computers, the Internet and cell phones for a while now, I must know a little something about any or all of those things. And they're right - with an emphasis on the word "little!"

So it got me thinking that it may be useful every once in a while to write about a topic that, while it may be something that is on the minds of my family and friends (and by extension, maybe your family and friends), they haven't yet gotten around to asking me about it -- for now I'll call it the T.A.P. ("Tech for the Average Person") series. And unfortunately it's gonna be a bit more advanced than things like "how do I set my answering machine?" (sorry mom and dad. . .) or "what is this Facebook/LinkedIn thing all about?" (if you don't know already, don't bother) -- but not by much!

So if there's anything on your mind that you've been wondering about, feel free to drop me a line at and I'll see what helpful info I can come up with for you!

Thursday, April 02, 2009


Over the last several months there's been a lot of chatter about this, both in the media/blogosphere as well as (more importantly!) within the Facebook community. Doing a quick search on Facebook for "Facebook charging" bring back 287 group results (many of which have few, if any, members) generally related to this topic. Two early articles include one from Farhad Manjoo at Slate and Mike Masnick from TechDirt.

Since it seems to be a slow brain day, I thought I'd revisit a somewhat old topic today, instead of coming up with a new one on my own, and give my two cents (after all - that's about all my opinion is worth these days!). I will admit right off the bat that my opinion is not 100% Facebook-user centric, but rather also looks at this also from the perspective of what makes sense from a business perspective. So you won't be seeing me join any of these groups anytime soon!

I've been fortunate enough to have worked at two companies -- Playboy and American Greetings -- that have demonstrated a certain measure of success with employing a multi-revenue stream model in their online businesses -- what I would call the "three-legged revenue stool" -- Advertising (banners, buttons, video ads, etc.); Access Fees (charging users a toll of some kind to access premium content and/or services) and E-Commerce (selling tangible products).

Based in part on my time spent at these companies, and also based in part on my feeling that diversification in one's portfolio -- whether it's your online business or your 401(k) -- is a good thing, I happen to be a fan of the multi-leg stool. It goes without saying that the more legs (within reason!) a stool has, the sturdier that stool will be. Too many online businesses of late have decided to put all their eggs in the single-leg stool model (advertising) and as a result, have been unable to develop a defensible/scalable business model for themselves.

By having multiple revenue streams, a business can manage these streams like levers, and throttle them up or down depending on factors like consumer behavior & feedback, market conditions, competitive landscape and effective ROI. These streams in turn act like a natural hedge, giving the company that much more to fall back on in case one of the legs of the stool starts to get a bit wobbly.

By all accounts, Facebook, for all its immense global popularity and usage is still not a profitable business and they're yet again looking to raise a ton of additional money (somewhere in the neighborhood of $1oo million) to help keep the lights on. Clearly the current models in place for generating revenue are not paying the bills, so as with any smart business, they should be (and likely are) looking at ways to generate enough cash to get to profitability and generate a respectible return for their investors -- after all, isn't that the basic goal of most companies?

It's safe to say that with around 200 million users worldwide and the distinction of being one of, if not the largest photo storage/sharing site on the Web, Facebook has evolved beyond simply a social network and into a social utility -- one that provides value to most, if not all, of its users. So why a valuable utility not charge its customers for some portion of its service? The questions then become -- what to charge for and how much? In terms of what to charge for, it could be anywhere from a flat fee for initial access to an advertising-free Facebook environment to tiered charges based on usage (consumer vs. commercial accounts, # of photos uploaded, # of friends in your friends list AKA address book, etc.).

For example, let's assume that Facebook charged a flat fee of $1 per month for consumer access to the service, and assuming that the majority of users (let's say 75% for the sake of argument) agreed to pay the toll, that would be a nice chunk of change for Facebook - $150 million dollars PER MONTH give or take. Of course nobody can predict what percentage of users would actually stop using Facebook and what effect an access fee ecosystem would have on new user sign ups, but if you're like me you wouldn't think twice about paying 12 bucks a year to service one of the most valuable social utilities ever invented. After all, we happily pay for other valuable services -- my roster includes the gym, Netflix, Flickr Pro -- that cost as much if not way more -- so why not Facebook?

Would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009


Woke up this morning to find an email in my inbox (well, technically in my Spam folder -- good thing I check that once in a while) from Blackberry letting me know that their App World is open for business. Went ahead and downloaded it onto my Curve and gave it a test drive -- here are some initial observations and a snapshot of my user experience:

* The navigation is pretty straightforward but definitely highlights the inferiority of the track wheel based nav of the Blackberry versus the finger swipe nav of the iPhone. The home screen is mostly dedicated to a horizontal scrolling presentaton of "Featured" apps, of which there are 11 - and the first one is (big surprise!) the Facebook app. Below the scroll area are four icons that you can navigate to and click on -- Categories, Top Downloads, Search and My World.

* A couple of things that, at first blush, may be a little bit surprising if you believe that the vast majority of Blackberry users are "older" (30+) and use the device primarily, if not exclusively, for business reasons:

1. Of the 529 apps that available, over 40% (227 to be exact) are in the "Games" category. The category with the second most apps (90) is "Productivity & Utilities" -- now that's more like it!

2. The top paid download (#23 in a list of 25) is PhoneyFarts -- so much for the sophistication of Blackberry users!

* Tried to download a paid app (PhoneyFarts -- what else?!) so that I could check out their payment integration with PayPal. The log in and purchase part of the process was extremely pain-free, but as the transaction was finalizing I got an error message letting me know that there were problems completing the purchase because of the system's inability to "obtain a license key." Not sure what that means other than a lost opportunity to Blackberry to convert a paying customer. And oddly enough, I got an email from PayPal with the subject line "Receipt for Your Payment" - hmm, wonder whether they actually charged me!

* So it now keeps getting worse . . . the app store seems to have frozen my device. I'm in the My World section of the app where I'm staring at the icon of my failed app purchase, and I can't navigate away from it whatsoever. Looks like it's time to do the old pull out the battery thing -- UGH!

* Tried to download another paid app - this time got a different error message letting me know that they're having trouble conecting to the App World server - strike two!!

* Finally tried to download a free app (Vegas Pool Sharks Lite) - and as they say, third time is a charm! App downloaded with no issues and the full functionality is intact. I can only assume that my problems with the first two tries had to do with the fact that they were paid apps and had some issues reconciling with the PayPal authentication system.

VERDICT: Not the best customer experience out of the gate, but as with any newly launched product, there are hiccups and bugs that I'm sure will be addressed. As a longtime Blackberry user, I for one am glad to have access to a native app store so that I can finally move on from Brickbreaker!