History in the Making

There are points in time that define society as we know it. The counterculture of the 1960s defined western culture in terms of individual achievement, respect for human rights, free speech. It pushed the bounds of visual culture and created whole new artforms in literature. A case in point is the ridiculous Howard the Duck cartoon character who was used by Steve Gerber to successfully lampoon 1970s America, post-Watergate and Vietnam through the counterculture mindset.

Some of the more surreal characters like Space Turnip and the giant bag of salt took their cue from 1960s psychedelic experiments. You can see more about Howard the Duck in this collection of the 1970s comics here in The Essential Howard the Duck.

History is a strange thing. The hippy San Francisco is now a sad psychedelic shopping mall of die dyed t-shirts and new age paraphernalia. The culture being blamed for everything from loosening modern moral values to the corrosive nature of materialism on society.

Having lived through and participated in the UK’s rave culture in the late 1980s and early 1990s as a clubber, DJ and promoter, I have seen a similar kind of thing develop, however property developers have done the rave generation a back-handed favour by redeveloping their icons like the Hacienda into a different format that could not get trapped into the tourist circuit. The cash-ins have largely been quite sublime, such as Warp’s very good collection of early house tracks 10+1 and 10+2. Matthew Collin’s book Altered State for me remains the best written book about this era.

Now the dot.com era is looking as if it may be starting to define itself in a similar way. Wired magazine, the Whole Earth Catalog of its day for the net generation has a ten-year netrospective (geddit) in its latest issue (Wired 13.08: 10 years that changed the world). Fortune has an interesting oral history Remembering Netscape: the birth of the net. The participants are rushing in to define their own place in history knowing that these articles will be the ones used by authors in the future when they write about how the internet changed the world. Again having played a role in that time, as a PR consultant working on a ‘new-chip to blue-chip’ client base as we called it at the time, I got an interesting overview of the sector and inside view of some of the major players. I am sure the future will be viewing this history through distorted vision based on the tinted recollections in these articles.

From White Heat to Flickering Flame

It had been too long since I read Peter Cochrane’s column on Silicon.com (which I noticed has changed descriptor from ‘column’ to ‘blog’ in line with the latest media fad).

In his July 14th posting he talked about the pace of innovation that has been running at break neck speed since before Harold Wilson’s ‘White Heat of Technology’ electoral campaign in the mid 1960s through to the internet age.

Whilst Cochrane disagrees with the evidence about this decline, he links to some interesting reading that supports the hypothesis here. Richard Holway (of the Holway Report fame in IT journalism circles) of Ovum talks here about how innovation is cooling the technology sector innovation and market value.

Jargon WatchCold tech – issues and technologies that ‘shrink the technology pie’ such as ‘free software’, the runaway nature of Moore’s Law creating computers more powerful than needed by busineses since software has failed to progress at the same rate and offshoring of jobs to developing economies. Credited to Pip Coburn of UBS based in the US by Richard Holway.

Beyond the Low Riders

The New York Times has an interesting article about how Sean Coombes is trying quite successfully to walk his urban fashion label out the cliche it had become. Though his business is worth some 400 million USD annually, Coombs has seen the writing on the wall of the scene and rather than cater for the limited market of Ali G impressionists is trying to move more upmarket. The urban fashion scene has become as tired as the sound of R&B and rap music, in the way that 80’s rock got into treading the same groove over and over again to make money.

In the US, labels like Ecko, Sean John and Phat Farm have been co-opted by preppie clientele. There is a certain irony in this as Phat Farm often aped preppie and collegiate looks for the hip-hop community. Now Phat Farm has been co-opted by desperate brands such as Motorola looking for a hook-up, Russell Simmons sold out leaving the company to an international conglomerate. Brands like Gap and Abercrombie and Finch have stolen much of the look and in Europe, genuine workwear brands like Carhartt and Dickies that were part of the real prison yard baggy look have combated the new pretenders by acknowledging their fashion customer base and participating in associated activities like music and extreme sports.

Coombs is using his womenswear range as a Trojan horse to get into the department stores that otherwise would not have carried his usual clothing range.

Reading the Tea Leaves

The Buttonwood column in The Economist has some interesting takes on the current interest in internet stocks again. The column puts forward data from both the bull and bear point of view regarding internet stocks: Interesting take-outs:

  • Forrester Research figures quoted:
  • That in the US people spend about 35% of their media time online but that this attracts on 6% of advertising spending
  • Internet advertising in the US was worth about 12 billion USD in 2004, it is likely to grow by 25% in 2005 and tail off to single digit growth by 2010

Research quoted from the bear side of thingsindicated that:

  • People are less likely to give out their details online. Of the 30% who used online banking, many were now using it less and 14% had stopped using it for paying bills (GartnerGroup)
  • 18% of Internet users had stopped shopping online due to the fear of internet fraud (Financial Insights)
  • Even online dating is down in the US (Jupiter Research)

Level 3 to Crooked E?

Totaltele.com had an interesting report from Dow Jones Newswire how Level3 the backbone network provider had been exhibiting Enronesque traits. Level 3’s capital-intensive business model is questioned (subscription required) by Helen Draper highlights how Level3 is having to invest huge amounts of money to make just a little money back, hurting its working capital.

This was one of the factors that encouraged all the creative accounting at Enron. This is particularly interesting as Level 3 was both a supplier of capacity to Enron Broadband Services and at the same time its CEO James Crowe was a vocal critic of the Enron Broadband Services business model according to journalists that I had spoken to.

Smart Futures

AlwaysOn have a number of great webcasts from the AO Innovation Summit 2005 in Stanford. I was particularly interested in the discussions on smart phones.

– I loved the description by one of the speakers about changing the names of smartphones to ‘social computers’. Whilst this was true – its a computer that is used for socialising, the phrase tapped into the lingua franca for the latest technology hot topic ‘social applications’ from social networks to tagging impressed the spin doctor in me.

– Seagate spoke about the rise of having a hard drive in cellphones, which I thought I was quite interesting, I can see that the continuing reduction in price of Flash and keeping a decent battery life is going to squeeze the opportunity for hard drive manufacturers

Converging Functions
– Opportunity exists for both converged and dedicated products. Both will co-exist because of peoples different needs
– Simplicity and integration were considered to be two key drivers for successful converged devices

– Terabytes on the phone will be driven by the ubiquity of smartphones
– Smartphones is currently outsold by ‘feature phones’ by 10-to-1

The Killer App
– Trip Hawkins – social networking (IM, Blackberry, voice), benefit improving their social life

3 G games

A couple of interesting articles appeared on the Mobile Pipelines website that when read together paint an interesting picture about 3G services. First up InStat the analyst house had done some consumer research, basically only an eighth of consumers were interested in using mobile video services. Customers who were brand loyal to their carrier (ie: had the most long-term value, were also the ones who expressed the biggest disinterest in the mobile video.)

Secondly, mobile carriers are interested in getting MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators) on board. Content experts like Disney (confirmed) and Apple (speculative) to drive usage of their networks. This reminds me of work that I did back at the end of 2000 around a report called Developing Winning Strategies in a Connected Society. In the report, over a 100 CEOs questioned admitted that they thought broadband in its broadest sense important, but DIDN’T know what the killer applications would be that would drive adoption. In essence they were betting blind that technological progress wouldn’t screw them over, not a particularly wise bet to make in the telecoms sector in recent years.

Mobile phone operators seem to find themselves in a similar position, by getting content MVNOs on board, they can defer the cost of rolling out 3G networks and observe how successful services can be developed (or not), as a kind of free skunk works. What is more the content experts take over some of the risk that the telecoms companies have found themselves lumbered with.

Despite the dross, web still useful

The New York Times has an interesting article how consumers are simply replacing Windows PCs that are cluttered with spy/mal/ad-ware. The article Corrupted PCs find new home in dumpsters highlighted a number of cases included an internet industry professional, a doctor (who migrated to the Mac OS X platform), a stockbroker and a bank manager.

What is interesting is from the article is that:

  • The internet was still sufficiently useful that decided to use it inspite of their bad experiences. Not one of them questioned the benefit of using online services
  • Not one of them blamed the poor implementation of security on Windows (ie a product defect), they accepted that using IT equipment is a shoddy experience
  • An adequate PC for using the internet is now so cheap that it can be considered a disposable item, getting adequate tech support or software protection is too expensive to make it viable, which has got to be a bitch for people selling more secure products (Longhorn) or security products (Symantec, McAfee etc)
  • By inference there seems to be little upside for many consumers in paying a bit extra for a safer computer platform like the Macintosh
  • Consumers are putting relatively little value in the data that they have stored on their computer, if they are willing to just skip the old one and buy a new one like a toaster or a microwave

The UK can have a crack at the big time

When I first saw this Deloitte report talking about the opportunities available to the UK my immediate thoughts about the language and imagery used in both the title and the front cover, were that the authors were trying to invoke the promising loser status of British tennis players like Tim Henman.

The ball’s in our court highlights the precarious nature of the UK technology sector, since the industrial age Britain has been on a decline in the global sense of technology leadership. We do have bright designers, made world changing developments and there are some bright sparks in the technology sector like Glaxo and ARM. However for every technological leadership success there are more high-profile failures: Thorn EMI, GEC/Plessey/Marconi and ICI to name but a few.

The report does not make surprising reading. Britain has been very successful in selling technology (which is essentially what Vodafone is), but hasn’t developed its own Intel or Microsoft. Qinetiq is cited as one of only two organisations involved in IT research.

Whilst the UK has a developed financial industry that does invest in technology, the reports measured criticism of the sector in supporting the technology sector will be familiar to anyone who has read the criticism of the short-termist approach to capitalism in the UK by the likes of Will Hutton. Venture capitalist outfits come in for particular criticism, the report says that they could do much better if they had the required industry knowledge to complement their financial skills

The report cited a decline in the past five years of UK headquartered technology companies that contrasted with the performance of foreign based companies:

a growing cause for concern is the performance of UK-headquartered technology companies which, in cases, have fared poorly over the past five years. Simultaneous to a host of foreign-headquartered technology companies’ strong growth, UK headquartered companies, have disappeared from the UK’s public markets. Similarly, while there are many UK-based multinationals generating a billion pounds or more in revenue each year, only a small handful of UK-headquartered companies have managed this level of turnover (such as O2, BT, Capita, Sage and Vodafone).

You can read the full report here

Peak Oil goes mainstream

Hubbert’s Peak Oil theory was developed by a geophysicist Marion King Hubbert to model how oil would run out. The issue has been discussed for a long time in oil circles, and widely accepted as truthful based on how Hubbert modeled the decline of US oil production based on a peak in the early 1970s. Hubbert had made this prediction back in 1956. The Peak in question is the top of a ‘bell curve’ (see picture) used to model production, the model can only provide approximate values because the oil production data available is usually estimates and can vary considerably in accuracy. Interestingly the combination of Middle East instability and the rise of the Chinese economy has brought the discussion of ‘Peak Oil’ into the mainstream culture. Rolling Stone magazine (yes, that Rolling Stone) has an article here called ‘The Long Emergency’. The article moves beyond Hubbert’s Peak to explain what a post-oil US economy may look like and it ain’t pretty.

Pretty good book review of Hubbert’s Peak by Kenneth Deffeyes can be found here. The book can be bought on Amazon here.

More information on Hubbert’s Peak can be found online here.

Movie Companies Surprised That The Pips Didn’t Squeak Despite Squeezing Customers

Business Week has a great article onlinethat suggests that movie companies have not learned the lessons of the music industry. DVD sales are declining because the format is too expensive according to evidence provided by Business Week readers. Both Dreamworks and Pixar have noticed a decline in disc sales. Box office hits like The Incredibles have underperformed in the retail environment.

Substitute products including cheap rentals is threatening the film studios licence to print money, expensive DVDs and a proliferation of ‘special editions’ are leaving customers feeling ripped off and shy of making the same mistakes in the future.

Y U Consume?

Knowledge@Emory has an interesting article for marketers about targeting consumers. Sounding like something out of the 1950s ‘Tactics To Tackle The Teen Market’ has some interesting case studies and common sense outtakes.

In summary:

  • US ‘generation Y’ consumers (born late 1980s and 1990s) were responsible for spending 169 billion USD
  • A lack of parental time is driving up the amount of money that teens have to spend as overworked folks resort to cheque-book caring
  • Teens are trendsetters defining tomorrows hit products
  • Teens don’t liked to be treated by brands in a condescending manner
  • Teens want ‘truthful’ advertising
  • Teens willingness to experiment offers an opportunity to new market entrants
  • Online advertising is a more important media to reach teens
  • Don’t try and BS them

The Coolest Smartphone You’ve Never Seen

Singapore-based technology company Qool Labs Pte Limited is a PalmSource licencee who makes a really sexy looking PalmOS powered smart phone called the QDA 700. Ok, their branding needs work, but their product design certainly doesn’t. The phone has a spec that would shame a Treo and doesn’t look like half a house brick and as you can see from the advertisement the QDA 700 has a built-in sultry babe magnet making the owner instantly irresistable.

Get this, they DON’T sell it in the UK or in the rest of Europe from what I can see. Not even Asian import specialists like Expansys sell it. It sells in Singapore for about 649USD. In addition, they have not licenced synching software for the Mac, like as if someone who likes their technology that stylish would use a PC? The call to action, help Qool Labs help themselvesSend a polite email to Ms Edna Ng on this email address explaining that you are interested in the QDA 700, you are based in the UK and would like to synch it with a Mac.

I reckon once they are convinced of the market demand the rest will follow naturally. Even if they don’t know it, Qool Labs need and deserve all the help they can get to bring this product West as part of a successful push for smartphone worldwide domination. Abuse or praise in the comments section please :-)

So Simple Anybody Could Have Thought of it….

But they didn’t. Coca Cola is a brand that is an icon, the visual language of the logo font is instantly recognisable. It also harks back to the 30-year old campaign of I’d to buy the world a Coke. So why these haven’t adverts haven’t been run before is beyond me.Last year’s Coke adverts were made up of those oversized illustration doodles that seem to be de rigeur amongst shop window designers at Harvey Nichols and Top Shop.

This execution was photographed in Tottenham Court Road tube station, I have also seen it on 48-sheet poster sites. Budding advertising critics can comment below.