Opinion

John C. Abell

Is Scott Thompson the ‘back to basics’ guy Yahoo’s needed all along?

Jan 6, 2012 17:19 UTC

Yahoo has once again gone outside the company to breathe new life into the once-mighty Internet titan: Scott Thompson, most recently the president of eBay’s PayPal division, takes the helm on Monday, January 9th.

The four-month search ends the latest period of uncertainty for Yahoo, which has been struggling to regain its rightful place in the hearts and minds of the digerati — to say nothing of an indifferent Wall Street.

Investors have been sour on Yahoo for a while. The news of Thompson’s hiring was met with boos on NASDAQ, where Yahoo closed Wednesday at $15.78, down 51 cents. With a “fool me twice” attitude, potential will be no substitute for results. And given the spectacular flame out of former CEO Carol Bartz, investor patience must be wearing thin (if, that is, it still exists at all).

Thompson seems to be arriving with a clean slate and marching orders that give him a fairly free hand — “he will work closely with the Board as we continue the strategic review process to identify the best approaches for the Company and its shareholders.” Indeed, Thompson hadn’t even met with the top Yahoo executives, which I would take as a sign that his allegiance is entirely to the board.

That’s a good thing, because Thompson has his work cut out for him. Consider this reaction from Lawrence Haverty, a fund manager with GAMCO investors, which owns Yahoo shares.

Five 2011 tech earthquakes

Dec 30, 2011 13:38 UTC

By John C Abell
The opinions expressed are his own.

Pick a year: It’s easy to look back and convince yourself That Was The Year That Was in tech, partly because the pace of change is so rapid and partly because we so readily embrace and then quickly depend on things that are completely different. Consider this: When the class of 2012 was applying to college, there was no iPhone. Until those students were just about at the end of their  junior years, there was no iPad. Both of these nascent devices now define the mobile Internet, which is where all the action is.

But 2011 had some pretty remarkable advances that seem to be the start of inexorable things to come, as well as some surprising and sad examples of demise, whose impact will surely be felt for years to come, in ways that are currently near-impossible to predict.

Some may argue that 2011 was the year of the tablet (redux), because of the spritely launch of Amazon’s Fire and Barnes & Noble’s reboot of the Nook color. I say, it was bound to happen, and that the only really interesting thing is that content companies are giving Apple a bit of competition, and not the hardware bigwigs.

White House’s #40dollars campaign is a hit

Dec 22, 2011 17:10 UTC

This is politics in 2011: Newt Gingrich is campaigning for Iowa caucus votes in bookstores that aren’t even in the first-to-vote state, Mitt Romney is burnishing his national lead over everyone but Gingrich with a self-deprecating “Top 10 List” on Late Night with David Letterman — and the White House is burning up Twitter in a showdown with House Republicans.

Read elsewhere for the ins and outs of the brinkmanship on the legislation whose primary purpose is to extend a so-called “payroll tax holiday” past Dec. 31.  Inaction will result in the end of a sweet tax break for workers that’s not quite as sweet for the federal coffers. Depending on which side of the debate you are on, you can find plenty of spin to try to seize the high ground. The Obama administration has been fond of saying that the end of the holiday will cost 160 million U.S. taxpayers an average of $1,000 in 2012 — by pure coincidence, a presidential election year.

But the president’s communications team has become even fonder of crafting its message for the social media generation by breaking up that $1,000 into a more bite-sized $40 pieces, per bi-weekly paycheck. Through that massaging of the message, they have created a Twitter trending topic called #40dollars. It’s not surprising that Obama’s team has been particularly adroit at the whole internet thing. Their man was a candidate who famously sought a meeting with Mark Andreessen — the two had never met — to talk about how social media might be leveraged in the 2008 election he won against considerable odds.

SOPA: So much to hate, so little time to stop it

Dec 15, 2011 17:42 UTC

(Updated 12/16/11 4 pm ET)

It may seem that Congress is getting exactly nothing done these days, with the game of chicken over the payroll tax and the possibility for what seems like the 537th time this year that the U.S. government may run out of money.

So you may be excused for not noticing that a full serious assault on the Internet is being considered by the House, and that it might actually see the light of day through the flotsam and jetsom of bigger business.

SOPA — the Stop Online Piracy Act — is the latest ill-considered attempt by some in Congress to solve a legitimate problem by creating an even bigger, totally unnecessary problem.

Don’t you dare call us

Nov 30, 2011 19:36 UTC

Remember how we all did the happy dance when the U.S. government created the Do Not Call Registry back in 2003? How we popped the champagne corks because hefty civil penalties could be given to a telemarketer if they called your landline after you had opted-in on the registry? Sure, there are loopholes and enforcement problems but essentially the registry works, and it restored the natural order of things by liberating us from having to drop everything because some faceless, money-grubbing salesperson rang in our living rooms.

A mere eight years later landlines are a dying technology. Cool kids, lower-income people, and savvy middle-agers know there’s really no need for a “home phone.” We’ve never had to worry about mobile phone spam because there is a FCC rule against it. This restriction was premised largely on the fact that, unlike on a landline, receiving a wireless call can cost something to the recipient. Same is true for faxes, for the same reason: unsolicited faxes — i.e., spam — is a civil violation.

But, aside from the practical rationale, this dynamic reflects the fundamental truth that I have a phone to make calls and receive them from whom I choose. I’m not paying all this money to establish a marketing beachhead in my pocket.

The bearable lightness of tab-lites

Nov 23, 2011 20:11 UTC
As the old saying goes: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

But fixing something seems to be what Amazon and Barnes & Noble are doing with new tablets which burnish their stable of e-readers beyond e-ink and into an entirely new arena still dominated by the iPad.

In recent weeks we saw the unveiling of Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble’s Nook Tablet, a faster/lighter/smarter version of the discounted, year-old Nook Color. With the high-end becoming even higher it’s now possible to pay as little as $80 for Amazon’s entry-level Kindle e-reader and as much as $250 for a Nook Tablet, with plenty of other options in between.

In other words, e-readers have become so widely accepted that there is room for flavors and price points to be all over the map, just like there are a multitude of iPods when there was once only one.

Cash, credit or a big smile?

Nov 17, 2011 17:34 UTC

We do everything with our smartphones now: reading, writing, photography, music. And, to paraphrase that old American Express commercial, we never leave home without it. But the one smartphone function that hasn’t exactly exploded yet — and really should have already — is paying for things.

The idea of an e-wallet isn’t especially new, but it did take the advent of the iPhone four years ago to bubble up the sort of possibilities that didn’t depend on storing information in a SIM card (which isn’t the prevalent wireless technology in the United States anyway). PayPal pioneered the notion that you could use a pocket electronic device you always carried to pay a restaurant bill or for a latte from Starbucks. (Sure, the device was a Palm Pilot, which means nothing to most 20-somethings. And yes, PayPal in its infinite wisdom stopped the person-to-person payment functionality very early in their history.)

That’s how far we’ve come — and haven’t.

One of the problems about dumping payment and loyalty cards is that the established credit card players are very well entrenched. Part is a visceral reluctance to believe that using your phone to store and convey payment and bank account information is much safer than brandishing plastic cards with an electronic strip.

What’s the deal with Groupon?

Nov 9, 2011 23:09 UTC

Watch Groupon Stock Soars, but Does It Have Lasting Value? on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

Groupon’s non-stratospheric IPO last Friday is really good news for all concerned:

    The underwriters don’t have to explain their pricing Voo-Doo, because only an acceptable amount of money was left on the table. Andrew Mason & Co. get to gloat, at least for a while, about spurning Google and earning a valuation some twice the reported terms — even though Google went into the daily deal business in a way which looks and feels incredibly like Groupon. Merchants who might have had reservations about the appeal of Groupon saw just how much attention was lavished on the company. Members will continue to get random offerings and spend money on things they didn’t know they wanted.

Such a deal!

The Cain mutiny

Nov 1, 2011 16:50 UTC

Everyone is now calling Herman Cain toast because of poorly-handled revelations that the apparent GOP presidential front-runner was the object of a couple of sexual harassment lawsuits that were apparently settled back when he was a lobbyist in the 1990s.

This, of  course, comes on the heels of everyone saying Cain has no chance because, well, he’s Herman freaking Cain, who has no organization, no apparent campaign strategy, sports a ridiculous wide-brimmed hat and hired a chief of staff who doesn’t think twice about puffing a cigarette in a web ad for his candidate.

In other words, this is a guy who the political establishment didn’t ever take seriously. Some Republicans are as scared (I would think) as some Democrats are craving the prospect of a Cain presidential nomination. It’s just like when some damned with or without faint praise other Tea Party favorites like Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry in the secret (or not so) hope that someone who actually could appeal to a wider electorate would get the nod (hint: Mitt Romney) without getting too beat up by allies before enemies had their opportunity.

‘Steve Jobs,’ Steve Jobs, and me

Oct 26, 2011 22:17 UTC

I’m only through nine chapters of “Steve Jobs,” the Walter Isaacson biography on recently-deceased co-founder of Apple Computer. But I am already enthralled, way more excited than, say, the New York TimesJoe Nocera (more on that later).

I’m not going to critique the quality of the story-telling, except to say that I am finding it appropriately understated in the way a writer can get away with when the story itself is so compelling. Even though we knew quite a bit about the famously private Jobs, through Isaacson he reveals and confirms things we didn’t know, or only suspected.

This is to be expected in an authorized biography, especially when, as is the case here, the subject approached and then pursued the biographer. It is also to be expected that there would be some tension and mixed feelings on the part of the biographer, even one so studious a journalist as Isaacson. Unless the subject reveals something utterly horrible there is no way to disprove the negative, that you are helping to spin the story, rather than report it.

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