The 2010 Uber List

December 28, 2010 § Leave a comment

As we are rapidly approaching the end of a very eventful year, it’s only appropriate to deliver what every loyal blog reader craves during the transition from one year to the next – a top 10 list.  But as I indicated, it was a very newsworthy year (the iPad launches, Facebook approaches 600M users, and Atlanta gets a white Christmas for the first time in as long as I can remember, just to name a few), so far be it from me to restrict the topic to a single dimension.  No, what I am providing here is a list of lists … my top 10 top 10 list.

Some proactive damage control:  Not all the lists are top 10, literally.  Some more, some fewer.  “Top 10” is just an expression, ok?  A short hand way of saying, ‘here’s a list of some good stuff you might want to know about’.  Second, after eyeing the categories I’ve selected, you will no doubt be chomping at the bit to inform me of the most important categories that I either inadvertently or intentionally left off.  Well, keep in mind that the subject of this blog will dictate, to some degree, the scope of what made it to my uber list, but also allow me the creative freedom that comes with these types of end-of-year posts.  And you may want to reserve judgment — hint, hint — until you’ve reviewed the final entry (list #10).  But more importantly, if you’re sitting on a tack, and just have to give me your feedback or else you’ll scream, then go ahead and post a comment – that’s what they’re for!

And third, you’ll quickly notice that I’ve curated a bunch of third-party lists, rather than construct my own.  So where’s the original thinking, you may be asking?  What’s the insightful overlay?  Well, I could have selected any list to post here (and there are many, many to choose from), but I didn’t — I selected these.  And you’ll also notice that many of the lists are based on factual data (for example, #3, the most downloaded Android Apps of All Time), not opinion.  But where opinion is warranted, such as in #1 (The Top 8 Gadgets of 2010), the list reflects my thoughts as well (or at least a very close proximity to it).  So enjoy.  Be informed.  Be inspired.  Be outraged!  But mostly, have a very happy and healthy new year.  See you in 2011.

List #1. The Top 8 Gadgets of 2010 (Impact)

List #2. The Top 40 iPhone Apps (Usefulness) 

List #3.  The Top 30 Android Apps of All Time (Downloads)

List #4.  The Most Followed Twitter Accounts (# Followers)

List #5.  The Wealthiest People in the World (Net Worth)

List #6.  The World’s Happiest Countries (Survey)

List #7.  The Top Blogs of 2010 (# Readers)

List #8.  The Top Movies of 2010 (Box Office Gross)

List #9.  The Top 40 Restaurants in the USA (I’ve only eaten at one, and if it wasn’t on my favorites list, it certainly earned a spot among the most expensive)

List #10.  The Top 10 of Everything List (According to Time Magazine)

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The double-edged sword of market platforms

December 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

In a recent TechCrunch post, the guest blogger makes a thoughtful point about the resergence of business “platforms” (e.g., Facebook or Twitter), and the risks that companies take when they become overly dependent (the way many former businesses did on the Operating System before computing was pushed to the cloud).  For sure, when you tie your product or business to a market platform like Facebook, you’re capping the upside, and inscribing a dependency that you may one day regret.  But let’s face it — many product ideas aren’t strong enough to exist outside the platform they enhance, and are destined to be product features, not businesses in and of themselves.  In other words, they wouldn’t even exist without the platform.  So when the proprietors of these businesses complain openly about how their “hosts” are holding them back, well, it seems just a little whiny.

The rare exceptions will successfully leap to a 2nd platform (if an appropriate one exists), be acquired by their underlying platform (Facebook has bought 10 companies this year, and more area planned), or transition to an independent business model (as Zynga is attempting to do).  If your business can not only stand on its own two feet, but be nurtured into becoming a platform itself (meaningful and broad market need, scalability, open API and user friendly SDK, partner-focused and efficient software developer program, etc.), well then, now you’ve got something to write home about.

Zuck among contemporaries in China

December 23, 2010 § Leave a comment

Facebook’s 26 year old founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, is reportedly vacationing in China this week before Christmas, and while there, meeting with several tech CEOs, including those of Sina (the Web portal), Baidu (the search engine), and China Mobile.  China’s government has blocked access to Facebook, which never reached more than 1M subscribers, and it’s no wonder that Zuckerberg would want to figure out a way to get re-established there, the world’s #1 Internet market by users.

And while that story provides plenty of blog fodder, I was drawn to a different angle, which was the assumption that while twenty-something CEOs aren’t so uncomon in the Bay Area, Zuckerberg must be just a little bit unusual in a culture as traditional as China’s.  I couldn’t help but snicker, thinking of the image of Zuck, in his youthful hoodie and tennis shoes, holding court with one of China’s stately, older, buttoned-up telecom execs.  Does Zuck even own a tie, and if he does, has he ever executed a windsor knot?

But then I did a little digging, and found something that surprised me.  According to a 2008 study by executive recruiting firm, Spencer Stuart, the median age of an S&P 500 CEO is 54 years (although if you consider a larger sample size the age drops a bit, and even more so if you consider only IT-related firms, according to another, albeit somewhat dated study by consulting firm Booze Allen & Hamilton).  Compare this to what the Cass Business School in London reports in a 2007 report, that “young” CEOs occupy 36 of the top 50 slots in China.  This fact no doubt makes it much easier for Zuckerberg to relate to his counterparts there – which certainly won’t hurt his business development efforts now and down the road.  But of equal importance is what this means to the new world order, as China evolves from its reputation as a low-cost, fast-follower, to a legitimate innovator in its own right.  Knowing that China’s economy is increasingly led by young, innovative talent adds credibilty to the argument that China is both a competive threat and strategic partner to our world-beating technology industry.  Those who have in the past doubted the efficacy and legitimacy of the Chinese have typically had to eat their words.

Broad and unclear patent awards destroy more value than they protect

December 23, 2010 § Leave a comment

Patents are an important method for protecting IP, and create value for investors, but when awards are both broad and unclear, the cost of licensing fees and the threat of legal action can stifle innovation and investment. Location-based mobile services are driving growth and providing benefit to a lot of people, so let’s hope that the recent patent awarded to WHERE Technologies, which their CEO calls the “Mother of all Geofencing Patents”, includes loopholes you can drive a drive a truck through. Unfortunately, it may take a legal claim to bring that clarity.

Netflix’s perilous future

December 23, 2010 § Leave a comment

Interesting banter between Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, and his short-seller “friend”. It could be unwise to second-guess Netflix, but much of Hastings’ defense seems to be that the threats noted by Whitney are longer term than 2011. Yet, if 70% of an equity’s value is captured by the NPV of its cash flow beyond foreseeable years (the “terminal value”), there could be a material impact on Netflix’s stock if any of the threats gain traction in 2011. So here’s what I’d really like to know now … how successful is the $7.99 streaming plan, and to what degree are DVD-plan subs truly shifting usage to streaming?

Big 3 dial-up ISPs see future differently

December 23, 2010 § Leave a comment

Have you noticed the divergent paths of the Big 3 dial-up ISPs? EarthLink’s acquisition of One Communications brings it closer to becoming a B2B communications services company. United Online used its cash to buy FTD (yes, the flower company) in 2008. And AOL, before it spun out of Time Warner, used it’s cash flow to pay its parent a healthy dividend, and today endeavors to become a diversified and relevant online media company. They couldn’t be more different. Appears that dial-up service is the “stem cell” of the technology industry – able to become whatever its controller desires.

Facebook’s share of views ahead of its market value

December 23, 2010 § Leave a comment

Much respect for Facebook, but when Wedbush analyst, Lou Kerner, assigns Facebook 20% of the value of the ad market (at a 16x multiple) just because it generates a quarter of all pageviews, he ignores the fact that Facebook’s CTR way underperforms display advertising on average, as well as paid search CTR. Facebook delivers reach, but hasn’t cracked the response nut yet. But give it time … its real value as a marketing platform may be in Fan Pages and applications, rather than display advertising.

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