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On Publishing vs Platforms part two

When I linked to the Harvard Business Review article about hybrid Publisher-Platform strategies a few days ago, I didn’t actually say that I find the strategy a little outdated in this day and age. We have established platforms with huge audiences and we have publisher with huge qualitative content capabilities. Yes, everything changes, and yes, once upon a time we said great things about MySpace (arguably a hybrid strategy that failed) as well, but the trend is really towards platforms becoming (stable) utilities and publishers to embrace those now established mediums. Facebook’s and Twitter’s (and Google’s) ‘connect with’ buttons are everywhere, eliminating much of the friction of integrating services with those platforms (I forgot LinkedIN in this, also a big one).

Publishers are rising to the challenge, (hopefully slowly abandoning old media and) embracing publishing where people read stuff: not in glossies or old tree canvasses, but in a feed.

The missing part is targeting. Of the big three, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, only the last one is pursuing a clear value proposition: for professionals. Facebook asks me to add my CV on a regular basis (not going to happen) and Twitter is a little bit of everything and nothing. So now I have Harvard Business Review in my Facebook and on LinkedIN, one of those two is going to lose. This represents a dual effort that can only come out of a continuing uncertainty of where content will be read (Arguably, tablet and mobile platform-interfaces are adding to this developmental overhead).

The Publisher as a Platform strategy may seem outdated, but it’s clearly a desire to control both content and audience, something that may not be as frictionless using other platforms. It’s public knowledge, for instance, that Apple does not share much user data with app developers (thank you Apple), but I don’t know whether this communication break is common practice with other platforms. I assume that due to the business model (it’s free, but someone is paying for it, usually with our user data), it isn’t.

So why does a publication choose to embrace so many platforms if, for instance, Facebook encompasses a good audience already? It may be for a couple of reasons, some more relevant than others.

  • One would be hedging bets on the future of a platform: history has proven that nothing lasts forever
  • Two may be that the overhead isn’t as large as imagined: at least for the web-based-platforms the programming tools will be similar. Platforms also have an incentive to make building apps easier.
  • Three could be differing audiences: LinkedIN and Facebook clearly aren’t the same, there is some overlap, but there are also people that only use one of the two. Same with Twitter and Facebook.
  • Four could be relevance: There’s a reason why old media is called Old…
  • Five could be learning: about platforms, audiences, differing business models, etc.

The list is probably endless and my bet is that at least half were mentioned in strategic discussions about publishing on platforms.

With all these challenges, however, it makes less and less sense to reinvent the wheel, unless your content or your platform vision is truly unique. Medium was an example mentioned in the article I previously linked to, but even that is risking much by some of the changes it is making, namely opening up the gates to the masses (I assume it did this because the masses were not reading enough). I hate end these thoughts on Publishing vs Platforms with time will tell, but it always does. & the evolution of Link Aggregation

I probably started reading 5 or 6 years ago, but realise that in its near 17-year history, it has survived through some pretty radical changes on the Internet. Jason Kottke writes about this in a, perhaps inadvertently, revealing blog post on the topic of links—the essence of what makes the Internet the Internet.

I could write a lot about what I think defines Jason Kottke’s website as a go-to site for me. Yes, it’s not focussed on a particular topic-area (what are the liberal arts really, except everything), but generally the content is interesting, intelligent and, as a result, rewarding to read. I also appreciate the commercial direction that has taken. On a podcast-interview some years ago, Kottke said that he can’t have a similar sponsorship model to sites like Daring Fireball, because that site is focussed on a particular popular and profitable area (again, that indefinability of ‘culture’). Recently, took on a new sponsorship model revolving around Kickstarter projects, which seems like an excellent fit for the site and are ‘advertorials’ that I actually enjoy to read.

In the blog post that he entitled “The return of the remaindered links (sort of),” Kottke writes about the importance of links to’s initial growth and the subsequent commoditisation of links as the web evolved:

The links gave the site a velocity it didn’t previously have. I hadn’t really thought about it until I sat down to write this post, but that increase in velocity made it possible, more than two years later, for me to quit my job and do full-time. But the web has changed. Sites like Reddit, Digg, and Hacker News and services like Facebook and Twitter are so much faster than this one man band…trying to keep pace is like racing an F1 car on roller skates. So, I’ve traded that velocity for quality (or, if you’d prefer, fussiness). I no longer post 10-12 things per day. Instead I post 4-6 of the most interesting things I can share with you on that given day.

With Twitter, things are changing for him again, but I understand the following sentiment quite well:

As my remaindered links experience shows, going fast without a plan can be beneficial in unexpected ways. With different tools and media delivery channels available to me now, I wonder: how fast can a one-person site go while still maintaining that choosiness?

To translate this into something more innovation focussed, we see phases of Kottke’s development:

  1. One of several blogs on the Internet.
  2. An increase in content and audience through the aggregation of links.
  3. Rise of link aggregators (along with, I believe, changes in the way Google weighs them) leads to a devaluation of the link concept.
  4. Refocus of site on quality over quantity again.
  5. Rise of Twitter as a personal link aggregation site (previous aggregators had much less identity associated with them).
  6. Attempt to reintegrate that into the brand.
  7. Next…?

There is no telling if his experiment will work, but my bet is that as long as he associates it with his unique vision about what goes onto the site, it will be somewhat successful. It’s important to note that his current advertising model (just referring to the sponsorships) is long form and therefore perhaps less suitable for a site that posts short links exclusively, if that is a possible direction he is considering.

In the end there is no such thing as sustainability, at least not in the “stay the same and make money” sense. Everything has diminishing returns as the rest of the “competition” eventually catches on. The key is to balance experiments with opportunity cost analysis (risks of jumping on wrong (technology) bandwagon, of alienating audiences or paying customers).

The strange transparency of Apple’s App Developers

Now, when I say transparency, I do mean that in a very limited way. Datapoints are being revealed left and right by developers, but even so the majority of app developers are keeping their sales numbers quite hidden.

A little background: Overcast, Unread, Monument Valley and several other more prominent developers have been quite open about the financial results of their respective apps (MacStories has more). In the greater context of things, this is perhaps not unusual. As I pointed out in previous blogposts, we live in an age where information is speeding up and increasingly becoming commoditized. Still, you don’t really see many commercial businesses revealing their numbers, unless they are public and obliged to do so to their shareholders.

So I have a few theories about this, the primary one being that the App Store is a learning platform for many developers. It has built-in tools, an audience, and a revenue structure that is by and large complete, just missing that special recipe that makes the app (what many have pointed out is lacking however is the App Store as a marketing and sales tracking platform). Apple is also quite transparent to not want anything more from its developers except for their 30% cut and certain, sometimes oblique, values to be respected (no adult content, spam, advanced functionalities in notification center?). Apple is also the market leader as far as these app platforms go (alternatives are Google Play, Amazon, Facebook, you name it), providing a certain stability and confidence in developers that it, at least, is here to stay. Finally, there is the combing trend of communities enabled by the Internet and even before that around Apple, that makes it easier for people to open to up to what they feel are sympathetic audiences.

The bigger question is will this lead to something? For many developers, I can imagine it will. You can do a computer science degree to learn how to code, you can learn how to code from the Internet. To run a business, the best learning is made from the marketplace and these kinds of ‘revelations’ are invaluable lessons to budding entrepreneurs. That said, there are no guarantees that the App Store is a viable platform forever. Marco Arment and others publish statistics about what it’s like to have a relatively successful app in that marketplace, with its inbuilt mechanism to make the purchase possible. Arguably building for mobile will always require some kind of App Store, but there is no certainty about it making you rich.

The complexity in innovation

As someone with an unbridled curiosity about how (any kind of) organisations innovate, combined with a passion and ongoing interest for all new technological developments on the market, I have had the luck to have some incredibly in-depth and specific conversations with innovators about what they are trying to accomplish.

Every organisation is trying to accomplish something, because every one of them feels the pressure of being left behind. Some governments offer some limited protection in the forms of subsidies, tax-breaks, and protective measures against foreign competition, but every company has to stand on its own two feet by the age of maybe 3-5 years old. When you are alone like this, it matters to both earn a living now and to provide the promise of earning a living in the future. That is where innovation comes in.

We all derive our inspiration from the intelligent developments around us. For many, it’s the market, new technologies being released that make us wonder whether this or that organisation could do the same. For some, it’s also public, but less accessible releases in the forms of scientific breakthroughs that may inspire the expert to build on top of that. For a few, it’s the scientific team in a closed off lab that comes up with an idea that can transform itself into an innovation downstream.

It’s always worthwhile to come back to the essence of what an innovation is supposed to be: an invention that has commercial application. An idea that transforms itself into a product or service that people are willing to pay for. There are very prominent elements within this definition of novelty and applicability, which is a tough balance to manage between getting inspired by existing market innovations and not yet commercial raw scientific ideas.

The truth of the matter is that these are all races of solutions for specific problems. In the end, the problem (market) can only sustain a few of these solutions, which means that speed and completeness of a solution are keys to success. It means that any organisation that seeks to innovate, must do so in the way of a well-oiled machine, while realising that that investment may not pay off now, but will pay off if you see it as a continuous muscle that gets stronger with every problem you are trying to solve.

To make things not at all easier, the rate of innovation is increasing with technological advances. Physical goods are catching up to digital goods, in the sense that anything can now be modelled and prototypes can be produced and tested at a faster speed. This could and will very likely end up in a downward spiral for business returns, because, much like in for instance the software market, the range of utilities makes the market more price-sensitive and less loyal, thus creating less sustainable rewards from single innovations.

The conclusion is therefore two-fold. One, no organisation can afford to not dedicate time and resources to consider their long-term positioning in the market. Two, organisations seeking to be though-leaders in the market, must make the difficult choice of continually innovating with the promise of smaller returns, or of finding alternative models that position them within an innovative ecosystem, without getting sucked down the spiral. A good example of this are the many platforms that continue to arise, though even those risk becoming commodities over time. That … is the complexity in innovation.

Essay: The Consequences of Having a Digital Soul

In science fiction and in the Kurzweilesque future reality, the concept of a digital soul is abstract and difficult to grasp. Yet, we have experienced an evolution in this area in the last half decade or so. I speak of the simple matter of IT backups and how it changes our thinking about IT. Very likely that same change of thinking will happen about what it means to be human as well.

At some recent point in time, each computer that we possessed was a separate entity. Yes, every computer was designed with input and output methods, in the form of (portable) storage devices, keyboards and mice, printers, and other forms of output. This evolved to the rudimentary beginnings of the Internet and has exploded in the last 15 years. As network speeds became faster, so came the introduction of ‘the backup,’ in the form of external storage, either in the home or off-site.

Right now, computers are backed up in a multitude of ways. We have offsite options, in the form of Dropbox, iCloud, Google Drive, Backblaze, and countless more. We have home-based options, in the form of software that will sync/backup your data to external harddrives. Not to be ignored, we have software that operates in the cloud, from note-taking to video-recording, to managing your customer, financial, and other company data.

What is one practical consequence of this? Every time your computer gets stolen, breaks, or is replaced, for every fire and flood, a simple restoration procedure from backup to a new computer will restore your digital life to its original, useful state. In essence, the hardware has become immaterial.

So what is the value of a human life? At this time, it is priceless because each and every one of us is ‘unique.’ We have data within us and, let’s not forget, physical features that are impossible to replicate and replace. We, you and I, are not backed up into some form of external storage. I am the only copy as are you, you, and you too.

Right now it seems unimaginable that Raymond Kurzweil or others will succeed to upload our human essence into a digital storage device 1. It seems equally difficult to grasp as to why they would want to do this, as if the very act would remove what it means to be human. That part is true. If being human means being unique, then having a backup is decidedly not human.

But there is incredible value in transcending humanity in that way. Wars and other disasters are killing people every day. People that we will never see again. Some are saying that our planet is being destroyed either by natural or industrial forces, or rather a combination of both. Without action, our only exit is to leave Earth and relocate somewhere else in space. Yet, that brings the cost of transportation with it, mostly expressed in time (another precious human commodity) and the resource cost of transporting many, let alone one.

What about more controversial values? What is the value of someone that is imprisoned for life, yet (supposedly) reforming himself? What is the value of the many unemployed, a trend that only seems to be improving for the wealthier part of this world? What is the value of a parent outliving a child or a person wanting to extend their life beyond human terms? The controversiality is that this value can also be expressed in cost to society.

If we do succeed in transcending towards a transportability of our digital souls, then we will also lose something else. We will lose our bodies and what they mean to both us and the people around us. At best summarised by staring into your beloveds’ eyes, also called the windows to our souls, which would then disappear with the passing of a human. Yes, we are making strides in replicating objects on a three-dimensional scale, but it is hard to believe that this replication can reproduce the depth and uniqueness of the eye, the texture, temperature, and hardness/softness of the body, the characteristics and flaws that make us unique in a physical sense.

For everything there is a price, but as I found out many times now with my electric devices, that price is relatively minor compared to having all of your memories restored. A point of discussion I admit, but I’m happy to argue it on this front also: does the value of a digital soul that is eternal outweigh the value of the whole of a living, breathing, physical specimen?


  1. For those interested, find out more information about his vision here

Publishing: Is free content an opportunity or a threat to scientific publishing?

Similar to last post from last Friday, there are other trends that are threatening the raison d’être of the traditional publishing model. This specifically being about publicly funded publishing, i.e. the scientific kind, being asked to become free content. What I find interesting is that this is not really for reasons of disruptive technologies like the Internet (even though Bill Gates is one of the initiators), but rather a much broader idea: that knowledge is important and must become free for the maximum benefit of societies.

The Bill & Melinda Gates foundation published a new manifesto / open access policy on their site a few days ago. It lists 5 stipulations that publishers associated to research sponsored by the foundation must follow:

  1. Publications Are Discoverable and Accessible Online. Publications will be deposited in a specified repository(s) with proper tagging of metadata.

  2. Publication Will Be On “Open Access” Terms. All publications shall be published under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Generic License (CC BY 4.0) or an equivalent license. This will permit all users of the publication to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format and transform and build upon the material, including for any purpose (including commercial) without further permission or fees being required.

  3. Foundation Will Pay Necessary Fees. The foundation would pay reasonable fees required by a publisher to effect publication on these terms.

  4. Publications Will Be Accessible and Open Immediately. All publications shall be available immediately upon their publication, without any embargo period. An embargo period is the period during which the publisher will require a subscription or the payment of a fee to gain access to the publication. We are, however, providing a transition period of up to two years from the effective date of the policy (or until January 1, 2017). During the transition period, the foundation will allow publications in journals that provide up to a 12-month embargo period.

  5. Data Underlying Published Research Results Will Be Accessible and Open Immediately. The foundation will require that data underlying the published research results be immediately accessible and open. This too is subject to the transition period and a 12-month embargo may be applied.

Of note, this is not a new movement. In 2012, the British government announced that tax-sponsored research would be freely accessible as of last year. The European Union followed suit, and some American institutes (the Gates foundation included) are requiring it too.

Having studied scientific publishing models for some years now, I believe that this will in fact become an unopposed reality. The reason being that scientific publishers are transforming into becoming providers of decision making tools for scientific advancement. They are still dependent on new publications, but having access to so much raw data means that they can create intelligence on top of that, making it more accessible to practitioners. That is becoming their new revenue stream, therefore reducing their dependence on the traditional model.

Whether this should be a universally accepted way of publishing, arguably it already has in some parts, since this and many other blogs are free to read. I have a feeling that book publishing is heading into a different direction, though still more and more cutting out the middle-man, i.e. the publishers. Where it leaves the latter and how this will translate to other publishing media is a big question I hope to get the answer to in the future.

The new face of Publishing… through Facebook

(…and other visual social media platforms like LinkedIn)

I have long held a philosophical stance about Facebook, as the “social enabler,” or disabler in some cases. Many of its core audiences, me included, struggle with finding a good use case for the platform.

  • Regular users like me wonder what to share (especially in an environment where privacy is more and more valued) and whether your online friends aren’t over-/undersharing themselves.
  • Corporations struggle with integrating it into their marketing mix, especially if they are already engrained into other marketing channels.
  • News seems like the most logical use case for this platform, but comes with some problems as well.

There is a major risk with publishing on a social media platform: it positions regular users on the same level as corporations, publications, and advertising. Everyone becomes the competition.

My social media education happened on Twitter. It taught me to not confuse the newsfeed with an RSS feed, because you would soon lose oversight of the “real” people you were following. As a result, I was a slow adopter of Facebook as a newsreader and continue to be careful. Recently, as a fan of Harvard Business Review on a professional level, and inspired by a “social suggestion” from my friends, I decided to give it a shot after all, and subscribed to the HBR feed. The results were surprising.

It turns out the publication has figured out how to integrate Facebook as a publishing medium. HBR is a monthly periodical, as a print publication, and has both its website and mobile (iPad) apps as online alternatives. I was surprised at the content being shared via Facebook, which both felt relevant and premium (you can buy many of the articles as a PDF), and was infrequent enough not to bother. It takes a discerning editorial team to ensure that both the quality of the writing, the thematical content, and the mix are of a good quality to its audience. Somehow, likely to having a dedicated social media editorial team, HBR figured Facebook out.

It’s an encouraging development, but one positioned on brittle ground for the same risk factor I mentioned above. Facebook, its users and content providers are continually evolving and thus requires continuous attention to the engagement metrics and other qualitative aspects of each shared item. It is clear that social media is an investment, which is why so many companies fail at it. And, more importantly, the return on that investment must somehow be quantifiable also. It’s for every company or individual to figure out whether it is worth it.

What Facebook and other social media platforms must absolutely do is to make using their services more transparent. They cannot handhold publishers and marketeers as they publish on the platform, but they can provide accurate information about how they are positioned for each news item within the overal newsfeed. That, in combination with link tracking, and a both coherent marketing strategy and dedicated social media team, should make a big difference to social media success.

On that even-keeled conclusion, I am still happy to read HBR on Facebook, as well as a limited amount of other news publications (The Big Picture is a good one). I am very interested to see where social media and news reading continues to evolve to, as we are clearly not done.

On E-Retail in NL: So many wrong assumptions

I’m sorry, I will have to link to some Dutch articles in this text, as there seems to be something brewing in this country that I couldn’t help but comment on. As always, Google Translate is your friend.

So, here is the timeline. About 3 years ago, the local retail association HBD came up with this brilliant advice that retailers had to make it easier to do comparison shopping. According to them, the Millennial was already doing this big-time and this was sure to increase across all generations by 2016.

Here’s the method described:

It starts with a search via, Layar Vision, and Google Goggles (I am stunned by some of these options), which allow for visual searching and identifying a retailer nearby or online carrying said item.

HBD advises that these searches may be overwhelming and a more effective strategy to reduce noise is for individual retailers to develop apps that allow for easy navigation in store.

According to HBD, word-by-mouth marketing is important (via apps like Yelp & Foursquare), and online reviews are important (e.g. Amazon or Google searches). I agree with both somewhat.

So HBD suggests:

  • marketing consumers’ pockets (for instance: targeting via QR codes)
  • understanding that customers want cheaper AND better products (…)
  • Combining efforts to go online together: working as a supplier for the bigger e-commerce outlets, pooling investment to build a joint e-commerce outlet, etc.

There’s so much more gold in this article of 74 pages (incl. 1 page of references), I can’t possibly summarise it all.

So the HBD decided to run some experiments in various cities starting in 2011. Silence followed for some years.

This week, an article and interview revealed that it was a mess. From the article: many retailers expected this to bring big profits, instead the costs were out of control. Another retailer (a butcher) states: I never believed in The New Shopping. Old shopping methods: good service, good products, a smile, work just as well.

From the interview with an HBD representative:

  • Clearly retailers prioritised technology over customers
  • They focussed on tools, rather than the end-goal (it can be argued that the latter was badly formulated)
  • Consumers are changing: multiple devices, more info about products online
  • Risk is a physical shopping area to not be interesting enough and lose its value
  • Retailers misunderstood the message and HBD communicated it badly as well
  • HBD also had to learn how to formulate such an approach better (…)

So… how to respond to this.

Technology moves fast and is in its nature disruptive. It starts with studying computing science and finding out 5 years later that most things you learned in terms of programming language is already obsolete. It’s powered by the competitive landscape of technology (Apple, Samsung, Google) and of software development.

A physical retailer is not usually in that mindset. They buy or rent a space to keep it. They don’t want to move and not necessarily change or take risks. That is not a bad thing either, because customer value consistence if it’s good.

But with technology, you need to make gambles and you need to stick to it, as well as having a strong vision about where you want to be.

The bigger risk is listening to hacks like the HBD (Bing & Layar, really?) and giving away your online channel to giants that will eat you up (Amazon, Bol in the Netherlands, others…). Pure online retail is driven by efficiency. It’s more efficient to keep profits centralised and to push costs from e.g. a supplier down as much as possible. Ease of comparison also pushes prices down.

It’s an equally big risk to not do your homework and not invest in those talents that drive your online strategy forward. A changing landscape needs a champion that rides that wave and makes it their own. It’s a lost cause to invest in gimmicks like QR codes, if you don’t understand what value they really hold and how to replace them if they lose significance.

I was sad to read this 3 years after they published this study, because I don’t think my opinion would’ve been different then. Online is just as important as physical, but you can’t master it without understanding and owning it. It’s 100% not surprising that this initiative failed.

Sorry once again for linking to only Dutch articles in this text.

On Tech: a microscopic screen & a gigantic one

Time will tell whether yesterday’s Apple announcements were a positive for the company or not. On the surface, The Apple watch feels like we beamed back into James T. Kirk’s Star Trek (the 60s TV show). The iPhone 6 Plus along with Tim Cook’s statement that “it’s better than an Android phone in every way,” feels like Apple chasing its own tail.

What I wanted was for the “iWatch” to enable more of a connected ecosystem, but I’m not sure if I needed a watch to really come with that. That Apple did release something that looks like generation 1 (a premature statement based on looking at a tiny touchscreen and hearing bad things about the unmentioned battery life), and that it had to up itself in terms of the iPhone, feels like a desire to stay tangibly relevant, to still remain the device in everybody’s pocket or on every wrist.

It’s unfortunate to write this before seeing either device in person, which is my own need to stay relevant (as it is every journalist’s that attended the event), because I know that I’m probably somewhat wrong and presumptuous about it. I didn’t know how either the 5s or the iPad (Mini) would feel, and I’m incredibly happy with both.

I am also presumptuous, I’m sure, about the other functionalities that the iPhone, Apple Watch, and Apple software will enable. The reason is different however, because it requires for an ecosystem to to be in place that works just as well as Apple’s hardware and software is integrated. It also usually requires a high investment in adjacent devices and a rollout that’s not just in a few countries. We are not yet there today, so what is there to review, just to hope for the best? Apple Pay certainly sounds promising, as do the health functions of the Apple Watch, even though I can already replicate many of those in software. The connection in the home is what will be an interesting new challenge.

More to come in the form of hands-on experience and science fiction expectations.

On Tech: iEnabler 3 – logical conclusions of what the iWatch will be

It becomes increasingly difficult to write about the “iWatch,” as there are rumors abound, speculations about the design, the price point, and it’s battery life. There doesn’t seem to be much thought about the added value of such a device however, and I really don’t believe that it is meant to replace the functionality of an iPhone or iPod.

The key issue seems to be centered around battery life, as no one wants a device that they have to charge once or multiple times a day. Equally, the size factor does not suggest much visual “touch screen like” functionality, meaning there has to be another appeal to it. These two together seem to suggest to me that we have to look at functionality that is both cool (in the Apple way) and consumes little energy.

The obvious leads that we have for this are homekit and healthkit, neither of which require much of a screen, instead relying more on sensors and connectivity. We know that sensors for mobility, built into the iPhone 5s M7 chip, are energy friendly, and I assume others will be too.

On the other hand, the only energy-saving connectivity technology seems to be Bluetooth LE, with cellular data being blamed as the major culprit for diminished battery life on the iPhone. With Bluetooth LE also comes Beacon technology, allowing for homekit-based interactions, so it looks like this area is covered too in terms of energy friendly connected functionality.

This just leaves the screen as an energy hog and somehow I see Apple as sacrificing this to make it a better device. So what I believe we will have is the following:

  • A slick watch, the kind you pay $500+ for.
  • Both a for-men and a for-women version, with hipper, cheaper versions to follow.
  • I would bet on it being analog in the design and aesthetic.
  • Powerful* health sensors inside (*: what is powerful though, it won’t read your blood sugar level, I guess).
  • Bluetooth LE inside.
  • Priced between $399 and $699.

The cool part being everything outside of the watch: health data, mobile payments, interaction with other devices. Launching Apple into new growth areas: devices for fashion, health, payments, and more.

This last part suggests a third or fourth product line (next to the Apple TV. Or even a fifth next to Beats), and a different naming convention altogether. A wearable line that integrates with fashion.

In conclusion, what I envisioned to be a mobile hotspot, one device to connect them all on the road, was perhaps too geeky? To limited in looking at the potential. There is so much activity around this “iWatch” concept now, the latest of which is the hiring of (watch) designer Marc Newson, which makes this quite of an open ballpark, in terms of what will be announced in just a few days.

Will it be a game changer? Clearly Apple thinks so with all of its acquisitions and new hires. Is it a big gamble? I don’t know enough about the dynamics of this new world Apple is entering into to say. I do know that fashion is a fickle and fast moving beast, but so is tech, and that brands do have staying power, as long as they innovate and deliver what its core constituents want. From Apple, we want the very best, and do far they have always delivered.

On Tech: The iEnabler 2

Let’s take my last middle-of-the-night idea to the daylight, i.e. would there be a spot for it logically? My stance is that the main value added for a wearable device is as an enabler for other functionality to happen. The size is too restrictive for it to have many more functions than, let’s say, a watch with some added notification features. But could it be a hotspot for other devices, such as an iPad, iPod, and the Mac, as well as possibly act as a “beacon” of sorts to open other doors, for lack of a better term?

What I essentially see it as a Swatch watch, showing very little extra on screen to the actual time function, but under the hood having space for a mobile simcard, wifi and/or bluetooth, and a battery that actually functions like a normal long-lasting Watch battery. A possible added feature would be for it to have an integrated phone , but I personally don’t find it a comfortable position to hold my watch to my ear.

The question is whether people would buy it with those features (minus the phone)? If you look at the base cost for the iPhone 5s ($199 with a retail price of $849) and the cost of the iPod Nano ($45 with a retail price of $149), there must be space in the middle there for a “watch” that costs maybe $100 and retails for $300. This is a good price for a semi-luxury watch! Any additional smart and health-tracking function are added benefits that increase the value.

Of course, I don’t know what it will be and frankly I would expect more leaks about parts for this from Apple’s supplier around the world, which are not really happening for any devices other than the iPhone and iPad. So whether all of this will happen, I don’t know, but for this, I believe there is a place for it in Apple’s line-up and in the market.


On Tech: the iEnabler

Note: This came to me in the middle of the night, so I apologize in advance if it doesn’t make perfect sense.

The iPad mini is pretty much the perfect iPad. I’m sure you’re heard that before, but it’s just a nicely shaped (size & weight) reading, gaming, and viewing experience (I have not really typed on it, I am writing this post on an iPhone 5s).

We are about to visit my girlfriend’s father, who is the proud owner of an iPhone 3G, which he was conned into by Orange, his phone provider, in 2012. I’m sure he would love the mini over the 3G, but his first question will be: can I do with it what I do with my phone? And my answer will sadly be: no.

Then I thought about the positioning of a future iWearable device. It’s small and will have little value as an iPod or iPad. But how about a hotspot of sorts? How would it be if it simply transmitted a signal to other devices, along with basic watch functionalities? It would, of course, be able to open doors and unlock your Mac, but what about bringing in a mobile wireless signal to my girlfriend’s dad’s iPad mini?

His generation is of course the perfect audience for a watch, as is anyone that ever wore one in their lives. That generation with their fat fingers and bad eyes (sorry oldies), would both love a watch and a big screen. They would love to call heir relatives on the bigs screen and… perhaps… on their watch?

What if the iWearable had basic functionalities like weather and notifications (non-vibrating please!) and could be held to your ear for an incoming call? What if it no longer requires a mobile chip to be inserted into the iPad or iPhone for that matter (the iPod touch, basically), and its price is covered by the premium iPod & iPad owners have to pay for that functionality to be built in?

I can see a couple of positioning problems, but also plenty of wins for Apple. The separating of cost to consumer is one. An iPhone or iPad with a mobile chip is pretty expensive. An iPad or iPod touch without it isn’t. That expense was often covered by mobile contracts, which have generously subsidized the device cost, but competitive pressures of cheap devices are pushing down margins for everyone. What if this subsidy would only need to cover the iWearable (100-300 euro/dollars) and the other 200-400 was the bigger device, covered by consumers themselves? What if this device also allowed for thinner iPads and iPhones with longer battery lives?

An iWearable will always have limitations, but any Apple device should do one thing very well. To me it seems that being a hotspot could be that One More Thing(tm). Well, let’s see if Gruber has anything to say about it.

On Technology: Cry Developer, Cry

There’s a new discussion out around revenues for independent app developers. I jumped into it via and have a few minor points to make  below these quotes. The two apps that stood out to me in the discussion (though there are many viewpoints (not many perspectives) listed in Marco’s post) are Unread, an RSS reader, and Overcast, which I recently reviewed and am still using as my primary Podcatcher.

For Unread, its developer Jared Sinclair writes:

Unread for iPhone has earned a total of $32K in App Store sales. Unread for iPad has earned $10K. After subtracting 40 percent in self-employment taxes and $350/month for health care premiums (times 12 months), the actual take-home pay from the combined sales of both apps is:

$21,000, or $1,750/month

Considering the enormous amount of effort I have put into these apps over the past year, that’s a depressing figure. I try not to think about the salary I could earn if I worked for another company, with my skills and qualifications. It’s also a solid piece of evidence that shows that paid-up-front app sales are not a sustainable way to make money on the App Store.

He’s right, that is depressing, though I have some notes about it in a short while.

For Overcast, Marco writes:

It’s too early to know, but I doubt Overcast will have the financial success that Instapaper did. Instapaper rode the App Store boom because it was in the right place, at the right time, solving the right need — and Instapaper 1.0 only took three months to develop, even as my first Objective-C app and with the relatively primitive iPhone OS 2.0 SDK. Overcast has taken over a year of work to make a 1.0 that could be competitive in a much more crowded and narrower market, and there’s still a lot I need to do.


Efficiency is key. And efficiency means doing more (or all) of the work yourself, writing a lot less custom code and UI, dropping support for older OSes, and providing less customer support.

On Efficiency, Benjamin Mayo also has a few telling words:

You have to be efficient with your time to make good ROI’s on the App Store. … If you want to maximise your profitability, make small apps that do a few things well. The amount of effort you put into an app has very little to do with how much of the market will buy it.

After all of these smart viewpoints (not necessarily different perspectives), here’s my view about it. All of these are individual cases highlighted by some pretty prominent independent developers. They are not by themselves a commentary on app development, except that people can learn from that and perhaps do things different.

Yes, efficiency is important, but lean development and management only goes so far, at some point spending money creates money and saving money results in lost opportunities. In any kind of development, software or other, you really always have two choices: you focus on small and repetitive or you focus on large and bombastic.

The first, I would call the franchise model. You build a model that you can replicate, whether it’s Starbucks, website development, or app development. Starbucks is just a wire-frame, lacking in atmosphere (somewhat) and you repeat in on every corner in every city. That means many small revenue streams that together add up to a lot. This is the so-called ‘efficiency’ mentioned in Marco’s and other’s posts.

The second is what I would call radically innovative or hard to replicate innovative products. It requires unique resources and perhaps a unique market to exist and gives both a tremendous advantage and represents a tremendous risk, because it often requires a singular focus and not a risk-reducing portfolio approach. Examples of these are rare, because those that we know have essentially already been mass-produced and probably have many competitors (iPhone, Toyota Prius, etc.).

Taking Overcast, I last wrote that I was impressed with the production quality of the app and I consider Marco an innovative developer. He also dedicated over a year to the development of Overcast, which I understand is a very long time relatively speaking. Is his market unique, no, and that will without a doubt reduce the ROI of his investment.

The same for Unread, which is an RSS readers in a market busy with RSS readers since Google Reader shut down. Is it innovative? I understand it to have a clean, minimalist reading interface (which is part of a trend in all things readers). But that does differentiate it from other readers, though every app should technically have differences with competing apps. As sorry, as I am to say it, because every developer loves their app the most, I think this falls more into the franchise model of apps.

There is the matter of unique resources, which are important in differentiation. Every developer has their unique skill-set and perhaps not unique access to resources. Apple opens up its development platform to the public, so technically everyone works with the same tools. I don’t know what Jared Sinclair’s background is and I sort of know Marco Arment’s pedigree prior to this app. I believe that programming and design can be unique, as can functionality, so it should be possible to create differentiated apps on the app store. At the same time, the universal access also facilitates the franchise system, allowing for ease of replication and lot’s of smaller revenue streams.

The general point is that while people may cry about the app store being to populated, this is a universal truth for most markets. There was a time where America had a gold rush, where gold diggers came to a river and fished gold out with their hands. Then more came and gold became sparser. So innovators focused on new technologies or new markets and got rich there. There’s nothing different here, except that the iPad / iPhone technology and OS is not mature yet, and that should still represent new possible functionalities for new development.

On Business: What the Beats acquisition tells me about Tim Cook’s leadership style

When Tim Cook took over the reigns from Apple, we were all afraid of the consequences. Was this golden horse that seemed to poop gold going to turn into something more mundane, we all wondered? There’s nothing worse than regular horse poop, I can attest, being surrounded by horse police in the Netherlands that seem to serve no other function than that. But back to Apple.

Apple survived. As Steve Job’s bio read, there was a five-year plan and Apple had lots of products in its pipeline. The problem turned out to be that this and Time Cook’s assurances (“It’s all cool, guys.”) was all we heard for a long while. Yes iOS 7 turned out well, the iPhone 5 and 5s were good, the 5c less so. What else that was new in Apple land, we all wondered? Was it just going to be incremental from now on?

Don’t get me wrong. Incremental innovation is just good business. You build on capabilities you already developed and you increase your margins. But no matter what the Apple pundits say, I think that we all feel like something new has to happen. A next new wave for Apple. A new product launch.

I can’t and won’t tell you what that is. We’ve all heard the rumors, which are as bad as spoiling a great movie. The nicest new thing is the one that you aren’t expecting and right now we’ve heard too much to not expect a lot. That’s bad for us and bad for Apple. It’s like overpraising a new movie coming out and going in with expectations that are too high.

Back to Cook. Tim Cook is not Steve Jobs. He can never be. But Tim Cook is Apple and part of what made it be a mainstream technology on every country. Tim Cook is the man that made Apple a giant corporation, long before Steve Jobs passed.

Where the gap lies is the role that Steve Jobs had as this stubborn leader that thought far into the future. I’m not a leadership expert and much has already been written about the magic of Steve, something that never feels complete, but perhaps provides many parts of the puzzle of that man.

When Tim Cook took over, he also had to make sure that the visionary part remained in the management team responsible for the present and future of Apple. The first contender for this was … his name escapes me… the guy responsible for making everything on iOS look like cloth and paper (Scott Forstall). He left and Sir Johnny Ive took over hardware and software, which seems like a great decision. Ive was engrained into Apple just as much as Cook was, just in the area of industrial design. His software chops were established with iOS 7, I feel. Both make a great team to run Apple going forward.

But is that enough? We have a smooth operation (Cook) and technology chops (Ive), but Steve Job’s DNA also had something I would just call outspoken stubbornness. There was an interview with Ive around the time that Jobs passed away, where he described the experience of going to a hotel with Steve. Johnny would go to the room, not unpack and wait for the expected call from Steve that this hotel sucked and they would switch. Would Cook ever have such an experience with Johnny Ive? I don’t know.

Jobs was also unafraid to make sweeping changes, in a way that I don’t think Cook is. I found the announcement about the Beats team joint Apple telling. Cook isn’t taking any risks, both hardware and Beats Music fall into specific leadership segments within Apple, under Eddy Cue (iTunes) and Beats Electronics under Phil Schiller (marketing). Both of these people are undoubtedly capable, but it also suggests that … what… Beats products are now Apple products. It also is very corporate in its feel, a division of labour, a hierarchy.

When I watched the Jimmy Iovine interview on Recode recently, some things struck me about him. He has great personality, a visionary that wants to keep moving forward, roots in music engineering, and a great network/reach in the music business, as well as the ability to connect with music lovers. He is pure music and thus makes for a great fit with the space that iTunes currently occupies within Apple.

The company is clearly huge, bigger than Beats if course but also bigger than Burberry as the hiring of the CEO Angela Ahrends to a director position attests. She is also an interesting personality that built a direct connection to Burberry’s customers through the store model in the last 8 years, and a perfect match for taking Apple retail to the next level.

Tim Cook’s Apple is in refinement mode, which is great for Apple’s core strength and reputation for building reliable products. We are all still waiting for that spark and I’m very curious who it’s champion will be, as I do believe great innovation requires a visionary that can span boundaries and the great challenges that come with that.

Is there room for pull-based cinema? [Republished from Tech IT Easy – 2011]

Seven SamuraiI cannot speak for everyone, but I often find myself at the cinema unsatisfied with the choices that the movie industry pushes out to me (without my input, exactly). The way mass market product development works is that products come out of research that reveals what a large percentage of a market would like and be willing to pay for. Movie-making is expensive (not always, but relatively compared to its perceived output), and a scientific approach to minimising the risk of losing money makes a lot of sense. A large portion of the budget is typically spent on marketing, an important argument against what I will propose in this post.

“Pull-based” cinema, not the sexiest term for this, would basically be a system in which a large number of people could vote on what is showing at a cinema at a given time. I imagine a kickstarter-like internet based service, that only gives the go-ahead if a certain amount of revenue has been generated for that night. The movies could be new or classic, niche or mainstream, it doesn’t matter as long as there is enough demand for a viewing.

A couple of uncertainties about this:

  • ◦ How are movies distributed and stored inside cinemas? If it is the bulky rolls that I remember seeing as a kid, then this is not viable on a large scale. If it is digital, then why not.
  • ◦ Is there enough financial incentive for cinemas, movie studios, and other parties, to make this commercially attractive? Also, how does it compare to revenues generated by movies that are new and heavily marketed?
  • ◦ What do audiences want and would there be enough market interest for such a service?
  • ◦ How simple and unpolitical is the decision making process for making this happen? This will always be a factor and should not be an argument against necessarily.

Practical solutions:

  • ◦ Start small: one cinema screen in a larger complex, perhaps 1-2x per month.
  • ◦ Scale big: use social services like facebook, meetup, and perhaps kickstarter to reach the masses.
  • ◦ If a clear market exists, focus: specialised cinemas and building up communities around movie lovers.
  • ◦ perhaps use auctioning systems like Easyjet’s (which also tried cinemas at some point) based on visitors and the popularity of movies. I’d easily pay triple for watching classics like Bladerunner, The Goonies, or Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai on a giant screen.

Even though I would love such a system of watching movies in the cinema and think it’s completely part of the times, I have a feeling that it is by and large deemed economically unviable, because of the large capital investments involved in cinema real estate and technology, as well as new movie production and marketing. That said, in terms of pricing, cinemas are clearly stuck: they either have to charge the same for every movie, good or bad, or force ridiculous price increases down customer’s throats for 3D glasses or the concessions sold for less than half anywhere else. Connecting supply up to demand in real-time overcomes some of the pricing uncertainty around movies and actually allows for more premium pricing to occur for products & services that customers *actually* value. Similarly, the movie industry is stuck, creativity wise, preferring to invest in the less risky sequel, than new intellectual property. They clearly fear customers and their market research doesn’t work beyond counting how many tickets the previous movie sold. Pull-based cinemas wouldn’t exactly address this either, as the production cycle is too long and the funding needs are very large1.

Pull-based cinemas are a proposed solution for the choice that customers currently face: either between a selection of movies that are forced down their throats by the studios, or the unlimited selection they can get in their private homes. There’s a discrepancy there and as movie setups at home continue to become better and cheaper, it’s bound to get worse for cinemas.

I’m very interested in this subject and if anyone has a greater insight into this industry or knows of such cinemas existing or having existed, please send me a mail to editor at the domain-name

1. Though this could work for independent movies.


The friendly new world of Publishing

Earlier this year, I visited a Nordic music festival, where I got to know some new artists that many people will probably never be aware of. It’s hard to break out in music, about as hard as writing, I imagine. I liked several of these artists on Facebook, just to be aware of new music releases and concerts. And last week, one of them published some news about a friend of her’s, that’s about to publish her first EP, and was giving one of her songs away for free to download. Of course, I listened to it, and noticed straight away a softness in the music that is so completely anti-pop, that you would never expect to see it published on a big music label.

The conversation has been happening for half a decade now, what social media represents within he cycle of pushing new items out to the public. I don’t think that these things can necessarily be put into a system, which is why the corporate approach of publish, measure, optimise, repeat, hasn’t worked quite so well. It’s just human voices, many of them, saying random things, some of which work better than others, and it’s the building of authority through consistency, boldness, and otherworldness that results in some being heard more than most.

After listening to this new artist’s single, which I like, I wanted more and turned to another artist that did get published more the traditional way. Why? Because I knew what I would get, which is the result of the predictability that comes out of such a system.

We are talking about an art form here, music, but this conversation could easily revolve around the difference between a bag bought on Etsy vs. one bought on Zappos. Do I want freshness and authenticity, or do I want reliability?

My view is that the corporate machine is best when working with existing creations, but not necessarily good at being responsible for creating them. The magic bright ideas that come to you in the shower, usually don’t appear while sitting behind your PC at the office. But the other side of the coin is that while a more bottom-up approach can be tremendously refreshing, innovating left and right, in the end there need to be systems in place that make these creations scale and sustain themselves. Which in turn results into a lessening of creativity or chaos (I write with a smile).

The difference between now and 30 years ago in publishing is that creativity can bubble up naturally, unimpeded by resource and time constraints. But to make it BIG, U2 big, it requires a machinery in place of many moving parts that allow fans around the world to experience what they love up close, whether it’s in the form of a professionally produced album or a sold out concert.  

A not so short article explaining why the stock market loves Amazon and fears Apple

It all comes back to the simplistic but realistic view that investors have of any investment. Amazon spreads its revenue risks across many different income streams and Apple instead focusses on a few high value products. It’s not about Amazon re-investing its profits in growth, even though that is exactly its strategy enabler, but that Apple seemingly does not. The market prefers a risk averse strategy to a profitable one and along with that a transparent strategy–the antithesis of Apple’s approach.

Read the whole article here.

#Free publishing is probably the future

I believe in analogies, at least I like to use them frequently. We are all producers, consumers, and distributors, that rationale can be transported to any industry with the differences being barriers to entry (affecting competition and price sensitivity). Low barriers to entry means that production is easy, prices are pushed down, and profit increasingly depends on speed rather than quality. Innovation can still be high, but because there are many players, it’s not nearly as valuable as it would be in e.g. the space race. My vision of written word publishing is very similar to that of software publishing, that eventually the business model of money up front disappears. Whether my assessment is true or not, that is why I’m starting this discussion.

The first element to look at is access, which is a broad term describing both access to resources and access to the market. From the industrial revolution onwards, it is clear that access to both has increased exponentially. Tools were developed to more easily produce in greater quantities and globalisation continued its exponential growth trajectory. With this development came greater cost saving, allowing for increasingly more output per money spent. That same phenomenon can be seen as growing a thousandfold with the internet and the development of the IT platform as an alternative to paper. With such new technologies, we can see that it becomes much more efficient to produce and distribute published works.

The second element to look at is competition. If you push costs down, it makes it easier for others to enter. It’s as simple as that. The greatest effect is on choice for consumers, who then become more price sensitive. In a vicious cycle producers and distributors are forced to also reduce costs or find other ways, e.g. restricting supply, to keep costs at sustainable levels.

The third element to look at is intellectual property, which is both a philosophical question and one about actual costs and associated value. We are talking about the creative industry, which has elements that cannot be reduced in cost. The writer of a book written in 1613 is in many ways just as valuable as the one in 2013, assuming that both are good writers. But that cost can now be split across many, many different customers, which was previously not possible. So intellectual property remains just as valuable, relative to the quality of it, but that value is now recuperated more effectively, again relative to the quality of the customer base.

What is my end conclusion? We are on a downward trajectory as far as pricing is concerned. Eventually it may be close to free, but it should never be completely free. There is value to the creative work, but the cost of access should reduce greatly. Both of these costs will never be zero, but can be split across so many payers that it may appear to be so.

I’ve ignored the perception of customers in this. Personally, I don’t think people want to pay zero money for content, because they realise that content production costs money. Content consumption equals time, which is something everyone values and people continue to be willing to pay to not waste their time. At least that’s how I think. It’s a “the king is dead, long live the king” situation and after writing this post (thinking out loud), I’m much more positive about publishing than I was before. 

Oxford University Press and the Making of a Book in 1920

The video is one of a series of videos of what the printing process looked like in the early part of the 20th century. Fascinating stuff.

I came across this via Coudal Partners. There’s also a discussion on Metafilter about it. 

Three Starting Points of Entrepreneurship Considered…

Entrepreneurship is a way or life, or rather a choice in life to take the riskier, lonelier path, rather than the safer collective umbrella of working for existing organisations. You seize to be an entrepreneur of sorts once the company that you founded become one of these organisations, because start-up companies are centred around putting all their eggs in one basket, while existing organisations have the luxury of having more options, spreading their risks among them. You can continue to see yourself as an entrepreneur of course, as someone who is more flexible and in control of his own destiny, but context has to fit that feeling.I’ve always be a student of entrepreneurship, I guess, because I always wanted to be one. There is a choice you have to make early on, that of what kind of entrepreneur you want to be. In my view there are three or more separate choices, though not necessarily disconnected ones. These are: the creative entrepreneur, the process-driven entrepreneur, or the copycat entrepreneur (which I could also call scale-focussed).

Each of these entrepreneurs faces their own risks and their his own skill-set determining their choice. And each choice creates its own opportunity costs as well. For ease of reading, I’ve split the rest of this essay up into different sections discussing risks, skills and profit zones.

Risky Business
The creative or the artist type may never find a market at all. That is either because of a communication problem (“So why is a space pen a good idea exactly?”) or a resource problem of getting from creation to viable innovative product or service (“Ugh, I know it’s a good idea, but I didn’t quite think it through to the market.”).

The process orientated entrepreneur, by which I mean entrepreneurs like the ones that create enterprise software, a product that needs to fit within an, often, rigid system, faces the time consuming battle of having to convince his customers to change their ways. Even if they are good and/or connected, they still need to bridge the gap between pitch and purchase, which can take months if not years. They are also slave to the whims of their new masters, at times some pretty powerful corporate customers.

The copycat (or scale-focussed entrepreneur) will often grab readily available technologies to create & scale his business and will likely face competition that does the same. For him, it’s about speed and flexibility more than anything else.

Talent & skills
Talent or Skills can clearly be split into three categories as well. Creative people are often drawn to this path because they want to (and hopefully can) create something new. You could describe them as artist-business people and perhaps recognise the problems and trade-offs that exist in such a combination. Hence many artists are better at the art part and worse a business or, god beware, the opposite.

A process orientated entrepreneur is one who (hopefully) has a firm grasp if the market that he is developing solutions for. In my view, these tend to be smart people that would just as well in a corporate environment, but chose this other route because they want to accomplish more.

The copycat or scale entrepreneur has perhaps the best eye on the market and tries to take the path that leads him to reward he quickest. There are plenty of things to criticise as well as to admire about such a person, if they are successful.

If I were to tell you today which path to choose, it would probably not be the creative one, I think processes are great as long as you an an expert in them (otherwise they are not worth it), and he copycat is both the easiest and probably the smartest, as it’s less risky.

The real reason for writing this…
Is because I think about my own path from working in organisations to starting and closing several companies, to growing my career, to where I am today. I see writing as a product that I try to master, which is different from previous products where I felt less in control of the variables that go into e.g. creating a piece of complex electronics or into creating a consulting business with lot’s of (paying) clients. I don’t necessarily think that one needs to be a master of everything prior to starting, there is a steep but feasible learning curve involved, but it is good to master at least one, if not two areas (The three that I mentioned: creativity (the product orientation), the process, and growth (copycat or scale) are different points of the map of a possible personality for an entrepreneur).

The biggest risk that an entrepreneur faces, apart from laying all his eggs in one basket, is that he focusses only on one aspect of creating a viable business. Too creative and removed from the market, too slow a market or complex a product, or growing fast without fundamentals are all real problems that these people have to deal with every day.

In the end, I see everything as a positive learning point and an opportunity to do things differently the next time. And I hope that that is the one thing that you take away from this. Even if you are a certain type of entrepreneur, just take the leap to try something, fail hard and hopefully fast, reflect and start again when the time fits your context.

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