Posts Tagged ‘internet’

Is This Farewell to the BlackBerry?

Monday, February 27th, 2012

“They’re going to pry it out of my hands…”

That was President-Elect Obama protesting the idea of giving up his beloved BlackBerry. At one point, Obama suggested that retaining his BlackBerry was one way to stay connected to the real world.  “I’ve got to look for every opportunity to do that – ways that aren’t scripted, ways that aren’t controlled, ways where, you know, people aren’t just complimenting you or standing up when you enter into a room, ways of staying grounded,” he said.

Ultimately, the battle was won by the Secret Service and Obama’s legal team for fear that the device would be hacked and that a damaging national security breach could occur.

Now — five years after its manufacturer, Research in Motion (RIM), was hailed as one of the world’s leading technology companies, the Blackberry’s market share in the United States has fallen from 44 per cent in 2009 to a mere 10 per cent last year.

According to author James Surowiecki, “These days, it seems more like the SlackBerry.  The BlackBerry’s reputed addictiveness now looks like a myth; a recent study found that only a third of users planned to stick with it the next time they upgraded.  R.I.M.’s stock price is down 75 per cent in the past year, and two weeks ago the company was forced to bring in a new CEO.  The easy explanation for what happened to R.I.M. is that, like so many other companies, it got run over by Apple.  But the real problem is that the technology world changed, and R.I.M. didn’t.  The BlackBerry was designed for businesses.  Its true customers weren’t its users but the people who run corporate information-technology departments.  The BlackBerry gave them what they wanted most: reliability and security.  It was a closed system, running on its own network.  The phone’s settings couldn’t easily be tinkered with by ordinary users.  So businesses loved it, and R.I.M.’s assumption was that, once companies embraced the technology, consumers would, too”

Adoption of the BlackBerry can be compared to the latest technologies of the last century or so.  For example, the telegraph was initially used primarily by railroads, financial institutions, and big companies. Although the telephone became popular with consumers relatively quickly, it initially was a business tool.  Typewriters also were found primarily in offices.  The Internet had its origins as a means of communications by the military-industrial complex, and found an audience among academics and scientists.  The personal computer gained market dominance once IBM introduced models targeted squarely at businesses.

According to Surowiecki, “Even as the BlackBerry was at the height of its popularity, we were entering the age of what’s inelegantly called the consumerization of I.T., or simply Bring Your Own Device.  In this new era, technological diffusion started to flow the other way — from consumers to businesses.  Social media went from being an annoying fad to an unavoidable part of the way many businesses work.  Tablets, which many initially thought were just underpowered laptops, soon became common among salesmen, hospital staffs, and retailers.  So, too, with the iPhone and Androids.  They’ve always been targeted at consumers, and tend to come with stuff that I.T. departments hate, like all those extraneous apps.  Yet, because employees love them, businesses have adapted (and the iPhone and Androids have upgraded security to make themselves more business-friendly).  As a result, the iPhone and Androids now control more than half the corporate mobile market.”

The trend toward consumerization sounded a death knell for R.I.M., because the company had no idea about what consumers want. R.I.M. didn’t introduce a touch-screen phone until long after Apple; the device was a pale imitation of the iPhone.  Once seen as a ground-breaking success, the R.I.M. started to be perceived as offering too many choices and confusing model names.

“The workplace is changing, too,” Surowiecki said.  “The barrier between work and home has been eroded, and if people are going to have to be constantly connected they want at least to use their own phones.  And since workers often end up paying for their own devices, it can also help businesses cut costs.  One way or another, consumers are going to have more and more say over what technologies businesses adopt.  It’s a brave new world.  It’s just not the one that the BlackBerry was built for.”

We Deliver – More Slowly – For You

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

First-class mail is likely the next casualty as the United States Postal Service (USPS) looks for ways to stave off bankruptcy. The USPS is planning to shutter 252 mail processing centers nationally and slow first-class delivery as soon as spring, citing steadily declining mail volume.

According to USPS vice president David Williams, the agency wants to effectively eliminate the likelihood that stamped letters will arrive at their destination the next day.  Williams says the postal service is not “writing off first class mail”; rather, it must respond to changing market realities in which people are turning more to the Internet for email communications and bill payment.  After peaking in 2006, first-class mail volume is now at 78 million.  It is projected to drop by approximately 50 percent by 2020.

The estimated $3 billion in reductions are part of a wide-ranging effort by the cash-strapped USPS to cut costs without receiving any help from Congress.  Although the changes would provide short-term relief, they ultimately could prove counterproductive by moving more business onto the Internet.  The move has the potential to slow everything from check payments to Netflix’s DVDs-by-mail, add costs to mail-order prescription drugs, and threaten the existence of newspapers and time-sensitive magazines.

Ideally, first-class mail would be delivered in two to three days, a change from the current one to three days in the 48 contiguous United States.  But, the postal service said mailers “who properly prepare and enter mail at the processing facility prior to the day’s critical entry time” could have their mail delivered the following delivery day.”  Magazine delivery could take two to nine days.

“It’s a potentially major change, but I don’t think consumers are focused on it and it won’t register until the service goes away,” said Jim Corridore, an analyst with S&P Capital IQ, who tracks the shipping industry.  “Over time, to the extent the customer service experience gets worse, it will only increase the shift away from mail to alternatives.  There’s almost nothing you can’t do online that you can do by mail.”

The post office already has announced a penny increase in first-class mail to 45 cents, whch goes into effect on January 22.  “We have a business model that is failing.  You can’t continue to run red ink and not make changes,” said Patrick Donahoe, Postmaster General.  “We know our business, and we listen to our customers. Customers are looking for affordable and consistent mail service, and they do not want us to take tax money.”

According to Donahoe, “We are in a deep financial crisis today because we have a business model that is tied to the past.  We are expected to operate like a business, but we do not have the flexibility to do so.  Our business model is fundamentally inflexible.  It prevents the postal service from solving problems and being effective in the way a business would.”

Senator Susan Collins, (R-ME), the ranking Republican of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, was unhappy with the USPS’ plans.  “Time and time again in the face of more red ink, the Postal Service puts forward ideas that could well accelerate its death spiral,” Collins said.  “Closing thousands of rural post offices, eliminating Saturday delivery, and slowing first-class mail delivery could harm many businesses and their customers.”

Writing in the Washington Post’s Federal Eye column, Ed O’Keefe commiserates with postal customers, but offers no quick fixes. “And what about those customers who rely on first-class mail to get letters delivered the next day?  Donahoe and other officials hope those customers will switch to Priority or Express Mail, a more expensive option that can guarantee deliveries by a certain date.”

If the plan is approved by the Postal Regulatory Commission, the changes have the potential to save about $3 billion, and allow the Postal Service to cut approximately 28,000 jobs.

According to USPS spokesman Dave Partenheimer, the changes allow increased time between deliveries, clearing the way to close or consolidate mail processing centers across the country.  “It’s no longer a challenge of growth — it’s a challenge of staying ahead of the cost curve,” Partenheimer said.  “The fact of the matter is, our network is too big.”

Sally Davidow, a spokeswoman for the American Postal Workers Union, said the changes will hurt communities and take the Postal Service in the wrong direction.  “They should be trying to speed up and modernize the mail, not slow it down and make it less relevant in the digital age,” she said.

Davidow said the retirement payment mandate and overpayment into the Postal Service’s pension accounts are the main culprits.  She believes that USPS leadership should focus on pressuring Congress to fix them instead of cutting service and jobs.  “Addressing those two things would go a very long way toward resolving the crisis and giving the Postal Service the breathing room and the capital it needs to modernize and to be relevant in the digital age,” Davidow said.

The postmaster general offered his opinion on that.  “The American public pays bills online,” Donahoe concluded.  “We can’t sit back for another five, or six, or 10 years and wait for these changes.”

Is a Dot.Berlin Internet Domain In Our Future?

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

The dot.com era is moving on.  Websites will soon be able to end with anything from “.shop” to “.canon” after the group that manages Internet addresses approved the historic change.  The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which until previously allowed just 22 suffixes including “.com” and “.org,” will accept almost any word in any language.  The move could prevent cybersquatting, the practice of registering domain names and selling them to trademark owners, often for big bucks.  Big business may have to buy addresses to prevent their brands from being hijacked, which costs $500,000 per company, according to an estimate from the Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse.

“Today’s decision will usher in a new Internet age,” Peter Dengate Thrush, chairman of ICANN’s Board of Directors, said in the statement.  “We have provided a platform for the next generation of creativity and inspiration.”  Applications for custom suffixes, which will cost $185,000, are not inexpensive and the first of these “top level domain names” won’t go live until the end of next year, said Adrian Kinderis, a member of Icann’s advisory council.  Canon, Deloitte and Hitachi Ltd., are some of the companies that are interested in company domain names, while generic names will be auctioned to the highest bidders, Kinderis said.

Icann has opened the internet’s addressing system to the limitless possibilities of the human imagination,” said Rod Beckstrom, president and chief executive officer for ICANN.  “No one can predict where this historic decision will take us.”  There is the possibility that several hundred new generic top-level domain names (gTLDs) will be created, which could include such addresses as .google, .coke, or even .BBC.  At present, there are just 22 gTLDs, as well as approximately 250 country-level domain names such as .uk or .de.  According to industry analysts, it’s a price that global giants might be willing to pay to maximize their internet presence.  The money will cover costs incurred by ICANN in developing the new gTLDs and using experts to scrutinize the thousands of expected applications.

Companies and organizations that want one of the new gTLDs will have to meet high technical standards, according to Bruce Tonkin, chief strategy officer at Melbourne IT, a domain registry service.  “You need IT robustness and you need intellectual property protections beyond what is available in the dot com space.  You have to have 24/7 abuse team.  You have to have mechanisms where a trademark holder has first right to get their name,” he said.  The higher standards, Tonkin said, translate to an extremely rigorous application process.  “Using a real estate analogy, it would be roughly the equivalent of getting approval to build a skyscraper.”

Japanese electronics giant, Canon, plans to apply for rights to use domain names ending with dot-canon.  Berlin, Germany, has expressed interest in a dot.berlin suffix.  Other suffixes could organize the Internet by language, geography or industry.  According to Brad White, ICANN’s director of global media affairs, opening the Internet address system will have far-reaching social and commercial impact.  “It will afford a possibility for innovation, creativity, branding and marketing.  We can’t fully predict the impact that this change will have, but we know it will have tremendous impact, in much the same way that nobody could predict social media.  Nobody could predict the popularity of Skype.  No one could predict the popularity of Facebook or Twitter. What we have done is removed a barrier to innovation,” White said.  “One of the biggest changes that this will mean to the Internet is an expansion of the use of non-Latin characters.  So, people who speak Cyrillic, or Arabic or Chinese can now use their own generic top-level domains at the end of an Internet address.  It will vastly, we believe, increase the number of Internet users.”

Brands need to act now if they want to apply for one of these new domain names as it is not as simple as registering a .com address. ICANN’s application fee is $185,000 USD and the application process is complex, requiring a submission which will run into hundreds of pages. Many companies will engage with a specialist to help them apply and manage their new TLD,” said Theo Harakis, chief executive of Melbourne IT Digital Brand Services.  Sebastian Bachollet, an ICANN board member, expresses confidence with the decision.  “Some people feel that the new gTLDs will cause confusion…I trust we have the tools to ensure the phase of stress will be brief,” Bachollet said.

ICANN’s announcement that it is setting aside $2 million to help developing countries is little consolation for the pay-to-play nature of the process.  According to ICANN, it expects as many as a thousand applications, mostly from recognized companies and brands.  Eric Mack in PC World says that “It appears that the greatest expansion of the domain name system is a big win for big business, amounting to the digital codification of today’s corporate giants.  But won’t it seem a little silly if, in five years, Canon, is part of a merger or undergoes a name change, or disappears from our lexicon for some other reason — and one of the world’s newest domain endings becomes worthless overnight?”

Netflix Beats Blockbuster

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

While Blockbuster may have at one time ruled the world of video rentals, in recent years it has been overtaken by Netflix.  The internet-based DVD movie and television rental-by-mail service, which came to so dominate the market, has forced Blockbuster into bankruptcy.  I wrote about this for the Huffington Post back in January, but I saw this cool graphic recently which illustrates this David and Goliath story compellingly.

According to the Daily Infographic website, Netflix has become so popular that, “Once having drawn in $6 billion in revenue, Blockbuster now owes millions to companies like Fox, Warner Brothers and Sony.  With their radically different business model and youthful appeal, Netflix shows how a small company can come in at any time and take out a giant.  Netflix knew what the people wanted, they wanted their movies delivered to them and they wanted as many as they could get in while paying a set price each month.”

Netflix gives the public what they want.

Phone Companies Hanging Up the White Pages

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

 Goodbye to the white pages.  The white pages are heading into retirement, as regulators in New York, Pennsylvania and Florida have approved Verizon Communications Inc.’s wish to no longer distribute residential phone books. According to phone companies, the majority of people now look up numbers on the internet instead of consulting the bulky book.  “Anyone who doesn’t have access to some kind of online way to look things up now is probably too old to be able to read the print in the white pages anyway,” quipped Robert Thompson, a Syracuse University pop culture professor.  There’s also some sound environmental reasons for discontinuing the white pages in terms of using less paper and ink.

The initial phone book was issued in February, 1878, in New Haven, CT.  It was a single page that listed 50 customers, and eventually grew into a book that was a staple in American homes for generations.  In an age when more people rely exclusively on cell phones (which aren’t listed in the white pages), the big books have become an anachronism.  Additionally, caller ID systems on land lines have the ability to store many frequently called numbers.

In the last three years, states that have granted permission to stop publishing residential lists or that have pending requests include Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.  In New York alone, discarding the white pages will save 3,375 tons of paper annually and conserve the energy required to print, bind and distribute the directories.  Despite the impending demise of the white pages, their business-oriented counterpart – the yellow pages – is faring quite well, according to the Yellow Pages Association, which says that more than 550 million combined residential and business directories are printed annually.

Emily Goodman, a doctoral student at Northwestern University whose dissertation is about the history of the white pages as information technology, said “The telephone directory stands as the original sort of information network that not only worked as a kind of a social network, but also served as one of the first information resources.  It’s sort of heartbreaking…even though these books are essentially made to be destroyed.”  Goodman hopes that the white pages will be archived for their historical, genealogical and sociological importance.

Where Do You Look for Innovation? Not the U.S. Anymore

Monday, June 21st, 2010

Where do you find innovation?  Try the developing world.  Breakthrough ideas that change industries are increasingly coming from the developing world rather than the United States or Western Europe.  Part of this is due to the fact that the West is outsourcing more research and development to emerging markets.  Currently, Fortune 500 firms have 98 research-and-development facilities in China and an additional 63 in India.  IBM’s staff in emerging nations is larger than its U.S.-based workforce.

According to The Economist, “But it is also because emerging-market firms and consumers are both moving upmarket.  Huawei, a Chinese telecoms giant, applied for more international patents than any other firm did in 2008.  Chinese 20-somethings spend even more time on the internet than do their American peers.  Even more striking is the emerging world’s growing ability to make established products for dramatically lower costs:  no-frills $3,000 cars and $300 laptops may not seem as exciting as a new iPad but they promise to change far more people’s lives.”

Dubbed “frugal innovation”, this trend redesigns products and processes to eliminate unnecessary costs.  For example, Indian telecom provider Bharti Airtel has dramatically cut the cost of providing mobile phone services by creating unique partnerships with its competitors and suppliers.  The firm shares radio towers with competing firms and outsources network construction, operations and support to companies such as Ericsson and IBM.

Yahoo! Planning a New Corporate Home

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

 Yahoo wins approval for a new corporate campus in Santa Clara, CA.  Advance planning has put the heavily trafficked Internet destination and online media company Yahoo! in a sound position to develop a planned 3,000,000 SF campus in a high-profile location in Santa Clara, CA.  Yahoo! purchased the 48-acre site in 2006 – well before the financial crisis and increased competition from Google and Facebook.  Although no construction start date has been announced, Yahoo!’s plans have won the approval of the Santa Clara City Council, which certified the environmental impact report and the development agreement.

Currently based in Sunnyvale, CA, Yahoo! plans to develop 13 six-story office and R&D buildings; three two-story common buildings; and two levels of underground parking at the site.  When completed, the campus will accommodate as many as 12,000 employees.  According to Yahoo!, the development would consolidate its employees and facilities in a Silicon Valley region with “high corporate visibility”.  The development agreement gives Yahoo! the authority to build at the site for as long as 20 years.