Opinion

John C. Abell

Rupert Murdoch’s traffic jam

Sep 28, 2012 19:53 UTC

It hasn’t been a great year for Rupert Murdoch. There was the phone-hacking scandal; the Parliamentary committee declaration that he was “not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company”; The Daily, his iPad publication, laying off a third of its staff over the summer; and a confession that, when it came to MySpace, “we screwed up in every possible way.”

To his credit, Murdoch started making bold bets on the Internet back when other media barons were timid – starting with his purchase of MySpace. The Daily was, at least in theory, an effort to “completely re-imagine our craft,” as Murdoch claimed.

There was also Murdoch’s resistance to Google, a contrarian wager that he could succeed in the Web era without Google’s help. In many ways Google (for better or worse) is the Internet’s most potent market maker, connecting eyeballs with websites as a mighty driver of traffic. But to Murdoch “Don’t Be Evil” Google was evil incarnate. Even though Murdoch has other papers that are indexed (including his U.S. flagship, the Wall Street Journal), he put the Times of London stories completely behind a paywall, blocking them from Google’s spiders, and likened what Google argued was the fair (and mutually beneficial) use of teaser-like snippets as theft.

The strategy: If some have to pay to read the Times, all should have to pay – there should be no exception to the rule. If no one could get anything for free, then they’d be willing (forced) to pay.

Murdoch wanted to be on the Internet, but not of it. He wanted to have it both ways – that’s the Murdoch way.

Why I won’t be getting an iPhone 5

Sep 21, 2012 14:53 UTC

Thousands of people will be “the first” to get the new iPhone 5 today. I won’t be among them. I’ve had every model of Apple’s revolutionary handset since it was first unveiled five years ago — upgrading even if my phone contract hadn’t expired yet — and, like the first-time parent of a toddler in a public place, am in a state of panic the moment I don’t know where my iPhone 4S is.

But I am skipping this upgrade. And while Apple is already setting sales records (again) with this launch, I’m seeing this milestone as the beginning of the end of the smartphone as the dominant mobile device in our daily lives.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not abandoning the iPhone, or any smartphone — at least not yet. I’m not even saying my iPhone 4S will be my last Apple handset, or that the smartphone won’t endure, even if only as a commoditized device.

The new iPhone is a people’s evolution

Sep 12, 2012 20:22 UTC

Revolutions can be exciting, but sometimes evolution can be even more powerful. With the curtain drawn back today on what exactly the new iPhone will do (and will be called), Apple is entering a period of consolidating its lead. Its next trick is to outflank smartphone competitors as deftly as it has in the tablet wars.

The news on iPhone 5 Day began with some some telling iPad statistics: The tablet’s market share has grown from 62% to 68% year-over-year through June, despite strong (relatively speaking) competition from Amazon’s Kindle Fire. And the iPad accounts for a borderline inconceivable 91% of all web surfing with tablets.

Why did CEO Tim Cook drop these little tidbits before the main event? To force the audience, as only the great magicians can, to look “over there” at the shiny stats instead of “over here,” where the devices generating those stats aren’t much changed. And to telegraph his master plan.

Amazon and the tablet market’s 7 / 10 split

Sep 6, 2012 22:18 UTC

Amazon is going where few have dared to tread, announcing a “full size” tablet that takes on Apple directly — and has the gall to be cheaper than the iPad. The tablet highway is littered with the remains of wannabe iPad killers from big hardware names — Motorola, Blackberry, Samsung. Even Google, whose Android software powers the Amazon tablets, didn’t bother to poke the Cupertino giant when it released its Nexus 7, choosing to make a tablet a smidge under two inches smaller than the iPad.

Amazon’s new large tablet, the 8.9-inch Fire HD, has a slightly smaller screen than the iPad’s 9.7 inches. But the entry-level price, announced today, is $300 — $200 less than the iPad equivalent, and only $100 more than the industry standard price for the new 7-inch interlopers, pioneered by Amazon.

Why bother overtly taking on Apple? Because Amazon can — and almost only Amazon can.

NBC’s Olympic contortions

Jul 31, 2012 21:43 UTC

It’s a toss-up which of this summer’s Olympics controversies will be the one most remembered. Twitter’s censorship (er, enforcement of terms of service) of an NBC critic and Empty Seat-gate are strong contenders. But for me NBC’s decision to tape-delay and edit live events after bragging that it would provide unprecedented real-time online access takes the gold.

Somehow our emotional attachment to television — and not video — remains incredibly strong. How else to explain the torrent of hate begat by NBC’s online blackout and broadcast delay of the Olympics opening ceremony in a day and age when alternatives and workarounds abound and time-shifting itself is considered a basic human right?

No, this feels like an “Occupy TV” moment: We, the 99 percent are galled that NBC won’t give us what we want when we want it, and that NBC is doing it because of a profit motive that requires it to manufacture appointment TV.

Facebook needs a new CEO

Jul 26, 2012 21:44 UTC

Facebook has now gone through its first trial by fire as a public company, slightly exceeding revenue expectations (with $1.18 billion) but showing a big loss in its first reported quarter ($157 million). Facebook shares were pummeled in after-hours trading; the company’s market cap has been slashed in half in just 10 weeks.

This is a bad, bad situation for Facebook’s early shareholders, 97% of whom are individual, retail investors – unlike those at the other big tech titans, which are majority-held by institutions: Google (68%) and Apple (67%). That Facebook’s percentage is so high suggests that Facebook is a stock for the masses. The masses need a hero.

That hero is not Mark Zuckerberg. He needs to get out of the way – not because we can judge him a disaster based on a single’s earnings period, but because he isn’t playing to his strength. He’s letting down the average folks who saw something shiny and new, but are now seeing shades of overhyped tech redux.

Finally, a reason to exclaim Yahoo!

Jul 17, 2012 18:15 UTC

Forget the cloud wars, the tablet wars and whither Digg. The summer tech news doldrums just got a jolt. Now we have a real story.

One of Google’s earliest and most respected employees, the highly visible Marissa Mayer, has left the search giant to become the CEO of Yahoo. This kind of thing doesn’t happen all that often, since Google is still one of the top workplaces in Silicon Valley and, even with its stock price well off historical highs, still considered an ascendant company in the high-stakes, “live fast and die hard” high-tech industry.

But most interesting is why Mayer is moving on: Not to relive her youth at a startup and prove that she isn’t a one-hit wonder. No, Mayer has agreed to move not to the garage but to the corner office to fix one of the tech industry’s most infamous basket cases.

50 shades of like

Jul 13, 2012 14:39 UTC

We are losing our faith in TV news as fast as those high-speed chases it’s so happy to show us. At the same time, we’re driving like maniacs on the social-media highway, letting it all hang out with the top down.

What do they have to do with each other? Both are advertiser-supported media. One prints money, the other not so much, at least not yet. And yet one is on the downswing, the other ascendant. What does this say about human nature and tapping into elusive and guilty pleasures?

In its annual poll, Gallup Politics found that only 21 percent of respondents expressed a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in TV news – less than half what it was when the poll was first conducted in 1993, but down only a point from last year.

Protecting Twitter from its own hubris

Jul 6, 2012 13:27 UTC

Twitter created a bit of a stir late last week by cutting off LinkedIn. Ostensibly this was to project a consistent look and feel for tweets as the company adds features like threaded conversations, which LinkedIn didn’t convey. People who have accounts on both services will no longer have their tweets appear on their LinkedIn profile pages. It’s hard to know how much these updates will be missed on the business-minded network, which distinguishes itself by hosting a more focused conversation than “anything goes” Twitter. But the practical effect is that if you want to be heard in both places you’ll have to repeat yourself, unless you choose to do all your updates from LinkedIn, which still feeds one way to Twitter. More likely, you won’t because it’s too much of a bother.

Bad for LinkedIn. Much worse for Twitter.

Twitter’s ability to pipe in to other networks is a big reason for its popularity, and in doing so it has aggrandized other networks. All this has been, to the outside observer, symbiotic: People like to share their tweets everywhere they hang out; networks benefit from all that chatter and Twitter gets its hooks into everything.

In cutting off LinkedIn, Twitter doesn’t seem to be adopting the “first taste is free” business model it has previously practiced. That’s what creates addicts who can then be charged through the nose. Now Twitter seems to be calculating that isolationism is a shrewd business strategy, that it has less to lose by pulling back on sharing agreements than the networks it drops.

Google enters the tablet wars with a small, safe bet

Jun 28, 2012 17:02 UTC

Google took another bite at the hardware apple with the announcement Wednesday of the Nexus Seven tablet. The tablet, very wisely, is not looking to compete with Apple’s iPad – the indisputable leader — but rather the smaller, cheaper tablets from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Outside of the iPad monolith, the Kindle Fire and Nook Color have been the most competitive entrants (albeit modestly) since Apple created the market in 2010.

Google’s Nexus Seven is a safe bet and, especially given Microsoft’s (sort of) foray into tablets, not entirely unexpected from the search and advertising giant.

And that’s why Google is smart to go after a part of the market where Apple doesn’t compete — the iPad is a “full-sized” device of 9.5 inches that starts at $500. There’s no reason to believe Apple is interested in making a 7-inch model, a size the late Steve Jobs derided. But both Amazon’s Kindle Fire and the Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet are 7-inch models that retail for $200, the same as Google’s Nexus Seven. By going after less-entrenched – but still huge! – companies, Google’s success doesn’t have to be measured against Apple’s. It can start small – literally – and see if it makes inroads against two companies still trying to make inroads themselves.

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