A free checkout worth checking out Wednesday, December 12, 2007
I continue to be astonished how few people seem aware that Google have been running a promotion in the UK which provides online credit/debit card merchant services for free. Google Checkout was running this free promotion until the end of the year but announced today that they are extending the free period until end of Feb 08.
Compare FREE with typical online merchant charges of 4.25%. Moreover, when the service does begin charging it intends to only levy charges at 1.5% AND these charges may also be offset against Google AdWord spending ie if you sell £100 of goods/services via Google Checkout which would attract charges of £1.50, they will give you free AdWord spending equivalent to this.
I mentioned this to a number of established online businesses who were completely unaware of it and the savings they could make. Several were dissuaded by the fact that a customer paying via the service had to open a Google Account if they didn't already have one, unlike the PayPal equivalent service. However, I rather think that a) there are a huge number of folks with Google accounts already b) the Google brand is virtually perceived by the non-tech community as being the internet. The number of times when speaking to non-tech friends they explain how they use the google web search box to type in web addresses, having never understood that you can use the address bar to enter the address!
Adding between 3-5% to your bottom line is a notable improvement and whilst it may be another example of a land grab by Google, in this case to dominate the online payment space, its' not a bad trade in my opinion. Thanks Google.
Don't mess with the over 85s Tuesday, December 11, 2007
They made be slow and in their dotage but there's a heck of a lot of them - the Office of National Statistics has reported that there are 1.2 million people over the age of 85 in the UK
According to BetaNews
Microsoft's FolderShare application which is intended to allow customers to synchronize files across multiple machines, has a bug which has ended up deleting them.
According to a statement from Microsoft sent to users of the service, an issue with FolderShare deleted files that contained special characters, such as trademark signs, accents and tildas, and the like.Great - my second Microsoft grrrrrr of the day. I've used FolderShare as part of a backup strategy for my Laptop and enabling me to ensure I am always carrying current files. Now I have to worry about my files being deleted!
According to Pali Research, CNBC (business channel) makes a profit of over $400m pa. Revenues comes from subscriptions and ads. Whilst only 246,000 people watch the station on average during the business day, they have an average net worth of $2.7m
This is a situation you will no doubt be familiar with, after all you are tech savvy by virtue of reading a blog!
A friend had bought a new Sony Vaio laptop which came pre-installed with Vista. That would have been ok were it not for the fact that the software he wanted to use didn't run on Vista and various devices he owned such a"s a Sony Video camera wouldn't connect to the Vaio because drivers weren't available.
So he turned to me and in my innocence (over-confidence?) I offered to help him by putting XP on the machine as a dual boot. I found all the relevant articles online and got a sense of the horror to come. Nonetheless, I set off and partitioned his hard drive using the Vista facilities and then presented the laptop with a genuine copy of Windows XP.
Now the story got complicated. XP claimed it couldn't find the Hitachi SATA hard drive and hence couldnt proceed with the install. Look around the internet, find references to the issue and how to solve.
Step 1 get the drivers - go to Sony website only to find they don't supply XP drivers for this machine. Ok, ring support line and enquire if they have XP drivers - nope or at least none they are admitting to. Best line from them though was "Why would you want to use XP when Vista is the latest version". HELLO? Have you used Vista or read online about the general experience? "Errr, not personally Sir".
Ok, so its a matter of finding the relevant drivers online and then making them available during the install via "f6" which allows extra drivers to be installed. Yes, but then you need to have a floppy drive available under that method - a what! Do I look like the Science museum? Obviously the laptop doesn't have one and I can't remember how many years ago I last used a floppy drive.
Found the hard disk drivers + relevant intel drivers after more online investigation......But still can't apply them without floppy disk drive.
Plan B - create a slipstream disk. Not having ever been in tech support, my journey took a detour to learn about creating consolidation files that aggregated an XP install with relevant service packs & drivers etc and how a freeware application called nlite would help. Duly installed and drivers located I created a consolidated installation file. Unfortunately, I only had DVDs rather than CDs and XP doesn't natively copy to DVDs.
Every frustrating turn was accompanied by yet another assault course. Finally I decided I'd spent far too long on this and accompanied my friend down to the local PC repair shop - small shop, lots of kit lying around, weird people wandering in and out. Explained what I wanted to do and whilst they were very conversant with what was required they counselled strongly against it.
They could install XP but in their experience the laptop probably would have too many components for which drivers were unavailable. Not to mention they would have to spend a long time looking for them at my friend's expense.
In the end, we just gave up. Result, couple of unhappy people having wasted time trying to get rid of some software they didn't want for a product they did, both of which come from the same software supplier. Moreover my friend, a lifelong Mac user for whom this was his first pc purchase, had his prejudices about the inferiority of PCs confirmed.
Whilst I can understand that Microsoft would prefer we used Vista, why make life so hard for the consumer? Moreover, it has only create a poor impression with us and we shall be telling everyone considering by a PC to only buy one if you can have it come with XP.
UBS owns up to another $10bn Monday, December 10, 2007
UBS caught most of the headlines this morning with their announcement that they are taking another $10bn write down on the credit book, on top of the $3bn last quarter.
This has got lots of people worried about what the other banks may still have hidden away. As is often the case, it is better to get all the bad news out of the way as fast as possible, otherwise you can destroy the trust that people have in your statements. Unfortunately, human nature conditions people to be cautious in giving bad news partly out of hope things may turn around and also because they are worried about the consequences of giving a large unexpected shock to the listener.
Where did it go wrong for the record labels Sunday, December 09, 2007
Music 2.0, a blog focussed on digital music has a long analysis here that pulls no punches it where it thinks the labels have gone wrong. Worth a read.
One extract from the piece
The last bit prompted the new phrase - "Would the last person to leave please blow out the candle"
“A Mayfair hideaway reserved for record label EMI’s top brass has been deemed surplus to requirements by the company’s new owner, city financier Guy Hands and his Terra Firma private equity vehicle. The house has been sold for £5.6m, marking the end of an era of excess at Britain’s biggest music company. Gone too are the £200,000 a year spent on fruit and flowers for EMI’s west London offices, and the £20,000 bill for candles”
Having been strongly encouraged by my wife to write the Wilson family 2007 Xmas letter (annual recap on the past year sent to people when never see and with whom the only contact is Xmas cards and the annual letter), I was instructed to also produce a photo collage of some pictures of our kids from the past year.
Trouble was that my software inventory came up lame on the collage generation
- GIMP, which is an open source product, almost certainly can produce collages but you need a PhD to use it
- Picassa from Google has a collage feature but with no controls and doesn't allow you to size it to a normal photo size - you either get a square 2x2 or 3x3 grid. This was important as I didn't want to use my colour printer, preferring to use the local photo shop which churns out high quality shots for 20p each.
- Any of the Adobe or Microsoft products I have didn't make it easy to mesh the photos together with out lots of unnecessary and time-consuming fuss
- Online application FlauntR did lots of great stuff but also came up lame with photo size collages.
Thought I'd struck gold with Collagr, a free online app, until I found that there were no controls you could use to adjust the collage and it only took photos from folders on either Flickr or Photobucket.
But then a further search on Google located Picture2Lite. It was free to use and provided a wealth of facilities to edit your photos which could either be uploaded or taken from online sites. It also had large suite of collage templates to produce your desired look at feel, each of which could be customised to suit your particularly requirements. It was incredibly easy to use and the results were great. Definitely one to add to your armoury of photo editing tools and facilities.
"We were robbed" claims Google founders & original investors Friday, December 07, 2007
Sean Park has written a brilliant parody piece, prompted by the announcement of the Resale Rights Society ("RRS"), on how Google's owners are demanding compensation based on the fact they evidently floated the business too cheaply given that the current share price is at about $700.
Having spoken with one of the leading lights behind the RRS today, one can see how the idea behind the levy arose and actually made it into public view. My offer of free assistance to enhance their bargaining position via some "refinements" was not even considered worthy of airtime - apparently there is nothing the person I spoke to doesn't know or that you could help them with, especially if you've never worked in the music industry.
Unfortunately, subsequent to that conversation, I definitely have fallen fowl of Sean's guidance that "we in the securities industry should resist the urge to feel too smug about how much more enlightened we have always been". However, I realise it will not do much good for me or anyone else. I also personally recognise the scenario depicted in the following quote in Sean piece as it relates to the live entertainment space:
“… nothing is more difficult than to introduce a new order. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new…”
Just spotted a new LinkedIn feature that reports on who has been viewing your LinkedIn profile and how many recent views it has had. If you are a non-paying member it gives you a "taster" by telling you about a few of the recent viewers and inviting you to upgrade to see them all.
It alerted me to a few people that viewed my profile, which has prompted me to get in touch with them out of curiosity.
Great way of starting a conversation - "who you looking at!"
Minglenow which was a slick community site revolving around "going out" is to close. Members were able to post info and photos about events they were attending or attended.
Personally I think social network sites with a general theme, rather than a vertical focus, will struggle unless they are one of the dominant few. It is too much effort to maintain a presence in many communities and so most people will settle on using the biggest general communities eg MySpace, Facebook, Bebo and create sub-groups within it. For specific interests/hobbies they may also join a community site eg Doctors, gardening, speedway.
Hence, Minglenow probably didn't have a differentiating factor that bound its' members together.
It was announced last night that Edgeio, a classified ads online site that was co-founded by Mike Arrington of Techcrunch and who remained on its' Board, is to close.
Apparently it wasn't generating the revenues necessary to remain a going concern and none of the investors was prepared to more funding in to support the company.
So, this is a useful reminder that sometimes businesses just don't make it, and not even the support of the mighty Arrington with his "online clout" can always remedy that.
NMK Xmas Lecture Thursday, December 06, 2007
Introduced by Prof Liz Goodman of Smartlab, the event drew about 60 people, many from the academic world. They were better informed than I on the subject matter to be covered.
Sadly in her introduction the Prof attempted to speak over a video with a music soundtrack - visual & audio overload.
However, I'd not realised how Smartlab devote part of their time to enabling people with disabilities to communicate via tech that otherwise wouldn't be able to. As someone with a profoundly disabled daughter, this struck a chord with me and it was astonishing to see glimpses of their initiatives.
The second speaker was presenting her doctorate work on audio & visual imagery as it affects womens clothing (or something). At this point I was drowning amongst art academics, having no idea what was going on - art eats itself whilst making a racket! And these people get taxpayer funding to do this. Perhaps if I was smarter I'd get it or maybe I need a chip on the other shoulder to become more balanced.
Amusing moment when the video playback for one of her "narratives" using an apple mac struggled to play the file - no one other than the artist realised it wasn't meant to be that way until she apologised for the corruption of the composition. That's modern art for you - look at a mop in the corner and applaud the artists creativity and subliminal message, only for the embarrassed cleaner to walk in and remove it
One Smartlab installation is "world scent" for world peace. An artist collected the democratically chosen scent of every country of the world. These were then mixed in relative proportions to populations of those countries to produce a world scent. The installation was awarded a Unesco prize for peace, at least I assume that's the spelling. Of course, I may have misheard and they were perhaps describing the smell.
Finally, Martyn Ware gave a talk. According to the event notes "Martyn is best-known as a seminal 80s pop icon and co-founder of The Human League and Heaven 17. As record producer and artist, he has has contributed to recordings totaling over 50 million sales worldwide. More recently through the Illustrious Company - his recent creative venture with Vince Clarke of Depeche Mode, Yazoo and Erasure - and his current Arts Council supported art project, the Future Of Sound, Martyn has developed a reputation as a convergent media 'Svengali' - working with and and showcasing some of the latest developments in immersive media and emergent technologies."
He demonstrated a 3D (2 level) surround sound (4 speakers in a square config, at ground & floor level, 8 speakers in all). He was then able to swing the sound through 3D using a joystick. The software can move 16 objects in the 3D space simultaneously to create a sensory environment. He terms it sonic sculpting and sonicimaging in a soundfield.
The biggest soundfield he's done was a 200m square operated over 48hrs through which a million people passed in Mexico City. Each sound composition was 2hrs long & many used the sounds of Mexico City. So real was the effect people were ducking as imaginery objects passed through the square or turning towards conversations.
He does a huge amounts of work with disabled people to help use sound & tech to enable them enjoy new experiences. They have created a sensory room from scratch in Bath, replacing the traditional sad installations I am only to used to at various institutions I've taken my daughter to.
The University of Virginia has recreated Rome from 400AD in 3D that you can wander through at street level inc every building and Martyn is doing the sound track as you wander through, hearing Rome around you.
He's worked with Sissel Tolaas who is a smell artist who has digitised 17,500 smells at the molecular level and can reproduce them accurately. In one case she digitised the sweat smell of 6 men from different parts of the World & recreated them in a single place - there were notable differences apparently.
Martyn's also working on transmitting 3D sound across the internet so that you could immerse yourself remotely in sounds from around the world within your own home.
In July 2008 he is hoping to do a soundlife of london in Leicester Sq.
One astonishing story he dropped in was about ancient Celtic tombs in Ireland where it was discovered they all resonated at 111htz - with the help of Cambridge Uni it was discovered this is the actual frequency which can put you into trance! How on earth ancient civilisations knew this let alone engineered it so precisely into tombs with what we assume are primitative facilities I have no idea.
The talk wasn't at all what I expected but was fascinating. Indeed the whole evening was enjoyable as I found myself unexpectedly immersed in a new environment.
Credit default swaps ("CDS") have been a huge growth market in recent years.
Conceived as a way of providing "insurance" against the default of a bond whereby the insured paid a premium to the insurer, these developed to provide payouts to fit particular circumstances eg downgrade of a bond; missed interest payments. The protection was usually linked to a reference asset (specific bond) and you had to exercise care that you chose the right one as often companies had many bonds in issue with different levels of seniority in the event of a default ie some would be paid out before others.
CDS also allowed greatly liquidity in the bond markets because a bank could agree to fund the issue of a corporate bond, whilst selling/hedging the credit risk.
But eventually these became the main way of trading credit risk naked ie no need to hold the bond as a CDS gave you the same exposures with less funds. If you thought the credit risk of a company would worsen you bought a CDS (short position), whereas if you thought the outlook was stable or set to improve you sold CDS (long position). This also avoided the messiness of having to physically trade and settle bonds.
Unfortunately, the markets have virtually dried up in these instruments, particularly in single name CDS (cover for particular company/bond). Its become very difficult to even get a bank to offer a price for a CDS, and where they do the spreads are large. The credit uncertainty is leaving people too scared to price the assets. More significantly, for holders of CDS positions is the challenge of marking the assets to market (valuing them to reflect what you could get for them if traded), as prices aren't readily available - mark to made-up/model price are used instead which will reflect normal market conditions. As such some portfolio values are likely to be "adrift" and hiding losses.
Its hard to tell when confidence will return and hence CDS markets will re-emerge but their absence marks a regression in investment techniques that can be used to generate returns.
Blognation - a sad story Wednesday, December 05, 2007
I hope todays flamer on Blognation will not bring its excellent output to a shuddering halt.
Their international coverage is unrivalled, and whilst some firms prefer to give scoops to other longer established mastheads, I hope their financial trials can be overcome.
That some of those other titles chose to delight in the scandal reflected badly on them - when the media become the story something has gone wrong with editorial priorities and highlights their own self-importance.Update
I've exchanged emails with several of the Blognation team expressing my sadness at the current situation. Their responses fall into one of two camps - "Oliver is right, so we're out of here" or "we'll carry on regardless because we enjoy it".
In an effort to remove talk, many radio station play 2-3 songs back to back.
I find this irrating sometimes as I'd like to know who the name of the singer and song. Personally I'm baffled why stations don't use RDS back channels to display this data. Most have xml streams also available online but rarely publicise it.
Well, UBC Media are launching a service that will use this data and allow you to buy the track you just heard from your phone. You have to install an app on your phone and register your credit card with the service. Downloaded tracks can be sent to your phone or PC by the service.
I was interested in the concept when I was shown this by UBC last May, but wonder if the pricing will be a deterrent at £1.25 per track, which is much higher than Amazon and iTunes.
UBC will also have to share the net revenues with the radio stations on whom they piggy back.
The timing for UBC isn't great, with Nokia announcing their "comes with music" service on their handsets. Free in the first year, you can download as much music as you want which is yours to keep. Subs will apply thereafter. Presently only Universal Music's catalogue is available on the service, for which Universal will be getting a min of £60pa per user. When Rob Wells at Universal explained the formula to me a couple of months back, I rather wished I had my old HP financial markets calculator handy! This is a bold move by both firms and is definitely agenda grabbing.
I believe data charges will be levied on top, but as an offering it has certainly caught a number of the mobile operators on the hop and cast some of their music offerings in a poor light.
In an interview with Business Week, Marc Benioff, the larger than life CEO of Salesforce said
we're not going back to disclosing our number of subscribers each quarter. It's not a meaningful, revenue-based metric. We don't think investors should look to non-GAAP numbers. High-fidelity numbers like revenue, profit, and cash flow are things investors should measure us on. It didn't make any sense to me why people should anticipate a subscriber number. We're not just a one-product company. When we were a single-product company with salesforce automation, then it was apples to apples. Now it's apples to oranges.
Interesting. Usually investors get to make their own mind up on what's interesting. Moreover, some investors might find subscriber growth numbers or revenue per subscriber a useful indicator of the company's activities. Financial numbers don't tell the whole story and normally lack any context. It's also a little unnerving when a CEO asks you to stop looking at a set of numbers and tries to get you to look elsewhere for your own best interest, regardless of motive.
Hypothetically, if you happen to winning big deals by slashing your prices, then you might not want to announce small revenue increments and big jumps in subscriber numbers, in case this became obvious.
That said, Salesforce is clearly doing a great job persuading the security departments of big banks to trust them - Merrill, Citibank and Deutsche have now signed up as customers - Citi has 30,000 seats.
Techcrunch is reporting that tomorrow Salesforce will launch a new service called Salesforce to Salesforce (S2S) that facilitates the sharing of data between companies that use Salesforce’s software as a service (SaaS).
I'm less familiar with USA data protection provisions, but here in the UK you'd be best to start off with the assumption that companies using this would be committing a breach of the Data Protection Act unless clients have specifically permitted the sharing of their data with a third party.
This won't be a Salesforce problem, only an issue for the companies sharing their data. Moreover, whilst they may be permitted to share some info, you can bet it will be easy to inadvertantly share too much.
Best to follow the line in the original Star Wars movie when the heroes found themselves being crushed in a garbage device. Uncertain of which device to shutdown, Luke Skywalker told the robots to shut them all down.
Techdirt reports that a Georgia man was notified that he had a negative balance of $211 trillion at his Wachovia bank account.
So that's where all the off-balance messes have been hidden away until now. I reckon he should agree to buy the back at 27cents on the dollar and pocket the profit.
Confess you have to wonder how it was that nobody in accounts/financial control had spotted that the trial balance and balance sheet numbers had gotten quite large at Wachovia.
Yesterday the Music Managers Forum ("MMF") unveiled the Resale Rights Society ("RRS"), which has been established to "license" the secondary market for live music tickets in the United Kingdom. Artist management firms representing more than 400 performers have confirmed their support for RRS, including the teams behind Robbie Williams, Arctic Monkeys and Radiohead.
RRS chairman-elect Marot explained that the body's aims are two-fold. The first is to introduce uniformity in the sector through a kite-mark system for ticket sales Web sites. Secondly, the society pledges to fight on behalf of artists and the live sector by negotiating a share in the proceeds of those resold tickets.
It is believed that a levy of 15% on the resale value is being proposed by the Society although details are sketchy. The target is the £250m turnover on the secondary market exchanges.
Unsurprisingly the online exchanges are unimpressed. Joe Cohen, CEO and founder of Seatwave, commented, "This is a direct attempt by a few music managers and promoters to line their pockets at the expense of consumers." He added, "Everyone in this value chain has already been fully paid for their work - this proposed tax is like BMW asking car owners for a cut every time someone resells a car. It's laughable that rock managers and promoters are holding themselves out as consumer champions."
Personally, I think the online exchanges hold the upper hand in the upcoming "discussions". Other than for PR reasons of being seen to co-operate with artists, they have no reason to voluntarily pay away a percentage of the turnover, since the market exists anyway. If reports are accurate, the suggested percentage would take a big chunk out of the 25% tariff the online exchanges typically enjoy.
Other than the kite mark, what else do secondary market operators get out of it?
Well, perhaps one arrangement to motive the exchanges could conceivably involve managers guaranteeing a supply of tickets to major events to provide liquidity to the online markets, with primary market tickets being diverted directly into the secondary market, allowing the price to be set based on demand and "windfall" profits retained by the event promoter/artist? This practice is not uncommon in capital markets, with allocation of new equity granted to favoured parties who then enjoy windfall profits, and which was at its height in the dot-com boom in the late 1990s. However, this may be unpalatable in some quarters.
The key problem is that the tickets issued for most events are "bearer" tickets (admittance give to whomever presents the ticket at the door) over which great care has been made to evidence their authenticity via embedded security and anti-counterfeit measures. As such private transactions can be easily conducted away from the managers and promoters. Unless this is addressed by the Managers, and "bearer" tickets discontinued, the secondary market will be able to easily avoid the levy.
Furthermore, I'm not even sure that the "Prisoners dilema" applies in this case, were one of the online operators to break ranks and agree to participate, since the others could operate without penalty. Ultimately, consumers just want access to the tickets and I suspect are less likely to care about a kite mark if the online exchange provides money back guarantees.
The timing of this initiative is very interesting though, as the UK Govt Select Committee is due to report in early 2008. In launching the RSS, the MMF has effectively endorsed the principle of secondary markets, which is a reversal of the position presented to the Select Committee which proposed that they legislate against the secondary market and effectively outlaw the reselling of tickets for a profit in a similar manner to sports events such as soccer.
Since I last wrote about the moves by property funds to restrict sales on 24 Nov, the situation has deteriorated even further.
Deutsche Bank, UBS and Morley have imposed a 12 months moratorium on redemptions on their £1.3bn, £2.3bn and £1bn funds respectively. The Managers are imposing this because of their inability to fund potential redemptions from fund assets given the time it takes to sell property in a fund. These lock-ins provide the investor with no ability to trade out of the position regardless of price.
I simply fail to understand why Managers resist there being a secondary market when they themselves refuse to operate a liquid market in their own funds. Ultimately, investors looking to sell should be able to negotiate with buyers prepared to acquire their interests and agree a price that reflects the anticipated falls in value and liquidity constraints.
M&S give shoe supplier the boot Saturday, December 01, 2007
One of my neighbours just mentioned to that a business he'd been advising and which has been supplying footwear to M&S for 85 years has gone into administration with expected job losses of 200 people.
M&S accounted for 65% of their sales and so had a huge influence on the viability of the company. A few months back, M&S had refused to offer any indication of that the firm could expect a continuity of orders, during a funding round exercise for the supplier. As a result the funding disappeared at the final hurdle.
Now M&S has apparently disintermediated the firm, who'd outsourced some of its manufacture to reduce costs under pressure from M&S, and gone direct to the outsource supplier. They even asked the incumbent to introduce them! Could this have been part of an evil plan all along?
The M&S turnaround has been spectacular under Stuart Rose both financially and in-store. However, its reputation for dealing fairly with suppliers may slip with episodes like this. As a signatory to the code of dealing fairly with suppliers, one has to wonder whether the good PR at the time might return to haunt them.
Whilst suppliers have to remain competitive, fairness in dealing remains paramount throughout the value chain.
How do you get to run small radio company - start with a large one.
That's how it must feel at both SMG and Gcap. The former has seen a massive slump in its share price this month since announcing what was originally a deeply discounted right issue. The shares are now trading below the new issue price of 15p, with it looking likely Hoare Govett, who are underwriting the issue, will have to buy them.
Gcap's CEO stepped down recently but the shares are still sliding with sell notes issues by brokers. Great news if you get appointed as the new CEO since either the company will be acquired cheaply and you'll quickly get a payoff OR you'll be the hero that stabilise/improves fortunes from this low ebb.
The price Emap's gets for the sale of its stations is also likely to be hit by the sector malaise.
Part of the reasons for the share price slump is a growing belief that a consumer downturn will hit ad budgets and reduce radio revenues. Additionally the increasing availability of services that allow you to consume music on phones will start eating into audiences that might otherwise tune into radio.
Another station rumoured to be closing is Oneword, the commercial competitor to Radio 4, which was co-owned by ubc media and channel 4. Only available on DAB, it apprently hasn't secured traction despite quality content.