Over the holidays I was off the e-grid. I had minimal online access because we traveled to my in-laws' place (celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary) and they don't like having their one phone line tied up.
Their world carries on quite well without the Web. Even many of the younger relatives do OK without much Internet access. Cell phones are popular, but not necessary. They use phone books, or just drive to the store, which is how nearly all of us got around just 10 years ago. They get their information from TV and newspapers.
The experience was a great opportunity to appreciate what we've built here. I have enormous stores of information at my fingertips, and access to many different points of view - including many outside the U.S. I have friends and correspondents all over the world, and can buy anything I want, from almost anywhere, in a matter of minutes without leaving this room.
But there are limits. I'm completely tethered to this desk. Wireless bandwidth is abominable. The clients you'd use to access the Web without wires are poor. There are a host of wireless networks out there, which means any wireless warrior needs a host of modems, or they're out of luck most places.
Yet actual wireless bandwidth is plentiful. Dozens of frequency bands have been licensed, ranging in size from 50 KHz to hundreds of megahertz. The most exciting stuff, however, is happening on unlicensed bands, from those formerly used by garage door openers to those previously unused. And then there's UWB.
There are problems, in other words, but there are also a lot of solutions out there. Connecting these solutions in a seamless way will be a huge challenge, but it will open up vast new markets. The success in unlicensed bands should stimulate those with licenses to finally get off their assets and deliver something worthwhile (although it's more likely they'll first go to government seeking protection).
The next time I go to Texas, I want to have a touch screen in my car that will tell me where the good gas stations and hotels are up-ahead, and alert me to any emergency e-mails I may get, automatically reading them to me on command. I want that bandwidth to play my favorite music, too, and entertain the kids, even let them do their homework, while they go along the road. I want the same access system to keep me in touch with e-commerce from my Palm Pilot (or other PDA) and I want that device integrated with my cell phone, in a way that's comfortable and light.
I think I can get it. I know the technologies are out there. There's plenty of money to be made. If we can just keep government out of our way access could lead us all out of the Internet slump.
It's here! Finally, the Print on Demand version of "Living on the Internet" is available for purchase at BookSurge.Com , for $29.99. And you can get the PDF version for just $7.99 (such a deal). The December update to the book will be coming out soon, and it's easy to get on the list via e-mail.
You can join the A-Clue.Com discussion at I-Strategy , our shared e-mail digest produced with Adventive.Com. You can also read me at ClickZ , BtoB, and Boardwatch. I'm also on the mast-head at Bottom Line Personal , a great print newsletter. Remember that it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...
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Takes on the News
The Electronic Wallet Mess
The e-wallet business is a mess , which is creating enormous suffering for both commerce sites and their customers.
Gator let the ad slump push it into becoming a haven for thieves . Once you lose your good name, you don't have much left.
As a result a host of tech heavyweights have been fighting to pick up the pieces. Microsoft and Sun's "Liberty Alliance" have been squabbling over issues like security and features, the kinds of things tech companies usually squabble about.
These are also the kinds of things consumers care very little about. Security should be a given, an absolute, an ante to the pot, not something we should need to talk about. What features do you need in a wallet - the thing opens and your money's there (I keep mine in my front pocket). Technically, it's basic technology.
The bank card consortia (Visa and MasterCard) backed out of this area after getting into it amid great fanfare in 1999 . Portals also tried server-based wallets, in order to tie consumers to their stores. The problem was the banks couldn't figure out how to make money with wallets, and unless you used a portal for shopping heavily the site-based wallets had minimal utility. If it was "open," (which the consumers wanted) on the other hand, the wallet lost its value to the sponsors, and thus their interest.
The simple solution, which we'll see develop over the next few months, is for folks to choose sides. Maybe Visa will align with Microsoft, MasterCard with the Sun folks, while Citigroup or AmEx will buy (and re-brand) Gator. Banks will have two choices for their own e-wallet efforts, and can push their customers in one direction or another, under the protection of the bank card associations (a necessary buffer to the fools in Redmond and Sunnyvale). If Gator doesn't find a major bank partner, I predict it will be gone by year-end. Certainly it will be irrelevant.
How VNU is Changing Ratings (for the Better)
The problem with having competition in the ratings business is the raters become beholden to the customers. When there's no competition (or limited competition) the rating agency can be independent, protecting its equity regardless of what others think. Having a single entity disclosing ratings also eliminates controversy over what the ratings are, and lets engineers work together to solve big problems.
This is the best thing I can write about VNU, which controls NetRatings and (through NetRatings) its former competitor, Jupiter Media Metrix. An example of the good that can come from this lies in how JMM is now handling "pop-ups" and "pop-under" ratings . Ads are now being counted separately from content, so X-10 (which serves its own pop-unders) is now a "promotional server," not a content site. Jupiter is also tweaking its rules to eliminate spam from the ratings.
The system is far from perfect. Content sites that use a lot of pop-unders, like Bizrate.Com, will still have their ad traffic counted. Jupiter promised to get its engineers to work on both this and the spam problem (those who survive the coming cutbacks following the merger, that is).
Job Sites Rock-on
For a while there it seemed that job sites would follow other Internet categories out of the ad market, with TMP's Monster.Com buying Hotjobs. But Yahoo swooped in as a "white knight," , TMP put its M&A fund back into its ad budget and we're back at work.
The best news for this industry is it has now gone through an entire economic cycle, and might be figuring out what's important. The number of leads you generate isn't important. The number of names in your database isn't important. What's important is the number of placements you actually generate.
If you're calculating this honestly, you follow leads on both sides down the "sales funnel," since clicking on an ad just makes you a qualified lede, not a sale. Different sites have placed themselves at different points along this funnel. Monster.Com specializes in being at the top of the funnel. Careerbuilder (controlled by newspaper chains Tribune Co. and Knight-Ridder) tries to put itself deeper inside the funnel. Korn-Ferry tried to get all the way in through two sites, Jobsdirect and Futurestep, but so far both have failed where it counts, on the bottom line.
The problem is that the money in this market is currently made on churn, not on arranging meetings, and both sides are becoming increasingly frustrated . The time has come to transform this business from a database marketing operation into real job placement. The only way to do that is by applying people to the technology, people who can stay on top of both openings and candidates, who are compensated based on true results. You can build a business on job sites, in other words, but the job site managers' greed and stupidity hasn't let it happen yet.
Clued-in were iWon and Infospace in managing their takeover of Excite . The site's worthwhile if it is kept constantly alive, especially at the dirt-cheap price of $10 million. iWon is mostly-owned by Viacom's CBS unit.
Clueless is the BBC , which claimed "the Web is shrinking" because of a slight drop in the number of Web sites out there. This is like claiming fewer people are educated due to a drop in college enrollments. In fact there's good news hidden in this story -- domain name speculation is finally ending.
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