A Blog by Jonathan Low


Oct 30, 2014

Google's Future Profits Must Increasingly Depend on Mobile

Search has been such a fat, rich source of profits for Google that it's little wonder the company's domination of the 'space' - if something so essential to modern life can be degraded with such a limited moniker - has engendered resentment across the real and virtual worlds.

But the unpleasant secret which has begun to leak out is that ad rates have begun to decline as the population becomes increasingly mobile, at least as far as its viewing and buying habits are concerned.

The result is that Google and those of its competitors left standing must work harder to solve the puzzle of effective mobile marketing.

The problem is that the companies involved are loath to share data in a market where data is literally money. But without comparables and more scalable solutions, advertisers are proving notably reluctant to increase their spending. Until, that is, they are given more assurance that their investment is generating the kind of return that their own investors expect. It is a knotty problem because the solution is not solely in Google's hands and requires cooperation from competitors who are loathe to do anything to enhance Google's current advantage.

Control sure 't what it used to be. JL

 Conor Dougherty reports in the New York Times:

Google has seen an effective drop in ad prices.Over the past year it has spent considerable effort trying to persuade advertisers to buy more mobile ads in hopes that this will raise ad prices toward the plum levels to which it has become accustomed.

The US Leads the World In Nobel Laureates Due to One Factor

Turns out that at least one aspect 'American Exceptionalism' may have some distinctly foreign roots: over 30 percent of US Nobel Prize winners have been immigrants to the US.

Now this does constitute an implicit compliment to American culture and policies. Not only do people want to come to the US, but they have been encouraged to do so. Even if what used to be called a melting pot has morphed into a 'glorious mosaic' that in itself has at times been in danger of fracturing due to stagnant economic growth and the decided shift of income distribution to a smaller percentage of the population which, in turn, has caused a less welcoming attitude towards immigration and immigrants, despite the fact that very few so-called 'real' Americans are descended from actual natives.

The reality is that the US has benefited manifestly from the contributions of its immigrants and that has given it a decided socio-economic advantage over other nations who have not been as open.

As this one example suggests, the competitive benefits of that openness may continue to accrue as long as the policies that support it are not constrained. JL

Eileen Shim reports in News.Mic:

Since the prizes' inception, U.S. citizens have constituted a whopping 42.4% of laureates. But more interestingly, 30.7% of those award recipients had immigrated to the U.S.

The Future Always Seems Inevitable. In Retrospect

For all of our ostensible embrace of complexity, disruption and uncertainty, we still tend to prefer straight lines. A to B feels a lot better than Q to D by way of M, however more likely we are to confront the latter rather than the former. And we like comforting stories about our heroes overcoming adversity through grit, determination and the power of one. Even if the reality is that it takes a city, not just a village.

Messiness is the by-product of change. We want the benefits that altered circumstances present to those who believe they are equipped, possibly even anointed to manage them, but the serendipitous encounters, helpful strangers, unintended side effects and pure randomness of chance and luck make us queasy.

The future as refracted through the Jetson’s prism may have been fanciful, even absurd, but it transferred most aspects of the familiar present to a technologically recognizable future. We are having trouble with the dislocations, traumas and fearsomeness of the actual journey. Turns out a lot of that ‘Brave New World’ stuff is just a little too uncomfortable. But if we take stock of how far civilization has come in just a decade, let alone two, we are forced to accept the realization that our hopes and expectations may be even more cartoonishly naïve than even a Sixties TV show could imagine.

Change is hard. People get hurt. Dreams die. But if we focus on the parts of the journey we can actually influence, we may surprise ourselves with the beneficial nature of the outcome. JL

Greg Satell comments in Digital Tonto:

Where we would expect to see an organized chain of lone geniuses working quietly in isolation, we inevitably find a crisscross of interactions.

Oct 29, 2014

Before Fear of Math and Nerd Culture: How Brogramming Came to Dominate

Foundation myths about boys in garages aside, there was a time not so long ago when women were equally represented in computer programming. Yeah, your grandma, who everyone in the family chuckles about as she tries to use her smartphone probably had as good a chance of becoming a programmer as did grandpa. In fact, as the following article points out, in the 1960s, women comprised 50 percent of programmers.

What happened, as the following article explains, was a societal imposition of misaligned or even false standards in order to protect what was evidently going to be an attractive profession at a time when guys worked and women, especially middle class women, largely stayed home. This was not necessarily done purposely or even consciously. It was just that math and chess skills and other behaviors associated with often nerdy guys, the brainiac types, became the defining characteristics those who were in the process of creating the profession identified, in part because they were tasks which they themselves enjoyed. And as so often happens, casual bias became deeply ingrained.

Society is now trying to dig itself out of that hole. While many of the claims of unfilled jobs are self-serving exaggerations created to support a lower wage structure, the fact remains that as with many professions, women are not as well represented as they could be – and given the proper incentives or encouragement, could probably scarf up all of that tantalizing, if ephemeral surplus. Assuming that is, those in positions of authority can be encouraged to overcome their own myopia. JL

Jane Porter reports in Fast Company:

In the 1960s women made up about 50% of all computer programmers, so what happened?

A Craft, Not an Aptitude: Most Entrepreneurs Are Not Born That Way

Many if not most entrepreneurs may believe they were born to start and run businesses, but research suggests that the successful ones are made, not born.

This is hardly a knock since starting and sustaining new enterprises is a skill. While some may be more inclined to accept risk or to enjoy the thrill of defying the odds, the reality is that there are lessons to be learned that only experience can teach. The accumulated wisdom borne of successive tries enables managers to prioritize their time, identify good opportunities from wasted effort and build a team of people they can trust to help build an enterprise with a better chance of beating the very long stats that thwart even the most dedicated – and well-funded.

There are those who believe they have a gift, especially serial entrepreneurs who have had at least one success. But behind the drive to create something from nothing usually lies a wealth of accumulated knowledge that becomes instinctive with time – and repetition. JL

Elizabeth MacBride reports in Stanford Business:

An entrepreneur can view a business that didn’t work out as a sign that he or she is not a failed entrepreneur but rather an experienced one.

Oct 28, 2014

Alibaba's Market Value Surpasses Walmart, Making It World's Biggest Retailer

50 percent of a big number is a big number. Alibaba has surpassed Walmart as the world’s biggest retailer, at least as far as market value is concerned. But that development, however brief it may be signals expectations regarding ecommerce and China.

Analysts believe that 50 percent or more of the Chinese population will be shopping on Alibaba in the next decade. That, in itself, would be enough to generate significant growth prospects. But the fact that Alibaba may roll its model out in other countries underscores the degree to which this could challenge not just Walmart, but Amazon.

It also illustrates the problem that Walmart faces in regaining investors and customer’s confidence. The Walmart approach is physical and it requires sustaining a massive installed base. The question is not so much whether Alibaba can adapt to a global market, but whether Walmart can change its operating philosophy to reflect evolving demographics, declining (or plateauing) US household incomes and the growing importance of ecommerce not just as an add-on but as a central focus. JL

Eric Platt reports in the Financial Times:

“China’s changing internet user demographics and mobile development support our favourable view on ecommerce for the next decade,” Cynthia Meng, an analyst with Jefferies, said. “We estimate well over half of the Chinese population will be shopping on Alibaba’s platforms in 10 years.”

That Was Fast! Major Retailers Disabling Apple Pay

Yeah, so about the entire world rolling over and playing dead when Apple announced its new mobile payments system: that was a tad premature.

The general reaction when Apple announced its Apple Pay initiative could be summed up in two words: game over. But reality turns out to be a bit more complicated and competitive than all that.

The banks which own Mastercard and Visa evidently saw Apple Pay as a way of extending the life of their potentially threatened franchise. But what they and Apple failed to reckon with was the merchants’ desire to own a slice of the mobile payments market. Not only is it lucrative, they were monumentally unexcited about ceding any more information and power to another competitor. For all of its ‘aw shucks, we’re just here to sell technology’ rap, Apple has clearly seen the benefits accruing to Amazon and Google from the aggregation of data. How long was it going to be before they entered that contest, denials of interest to the contrary?

It is apparent that no one yet owns this space. Lots of major players, including Google, have tried and so far failed to corner the market as they have in search or as Amazon has in ecommerce and Apple in music. But everyone sees the opportunity. It’s just that realizing it is going to be a tougher slog than they might have imagined – or hoped. JL

Dante D’Orazio reports in The Verge:

The fight for control of the mobile payments market is opening a rift between merchants and banks. Banks and credit card companies have enthusiastically supported Apple Pay, seeing it as a way to increase the number of purchases people make with their credit cards. But Apple has struggled to get merchants on board.