Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Random Stuff - Combined today with New Stuff

Mechanical, magnetic hard drives just won't go away!
Hard drives: The new VHS tape a news story at CNET shows that products based in a very old technology (for the computing age, anyway), are only improving and getting stronger, not getting run over by something radically new.

Hard drives, the veteran storage technology, may be about to become the medium of choice for virtually all media products - not to mention other data generators (think personal history, transactions, home and office automation, smart buildings, etc.). After years of trying to invent ways to record data on a fixed medium (e.g., CDROM, remember optical data cards?), it looks like continuing research has made random access writing/reading devices small and light enough - and robust enough - to fill the bill. The possibilities are nearly endless when you think about it. And the story may not go far enough: it mentions 60GB being storage enough for 4.5 hours of uncompressed video - but remember that TiVO gets 30 hours of compressed video in a 40 GB space. The combination of super sturdy and super small hardware - with new and efficient compression schemes - may breathe a whole new life into what many were calling a dying industry a few years ago.

Microsoft caught with its testimonials down
Trying to respond to Apple's popular "Switcher" ads, Microsoft placed an ad on their Web site with a similar story line - about a woman who switched from Mac to PC. Unfortunately, the picture was clip art and the story made up. The writer, though, is real enough - she's a staffer at Microsoft's ad agency. OOps! No "reality" TV here! Not the worst sin in the world (certainly not as bad as Sony Pictures' escapade with the fake reviewer quoted on their movie's ads). But it always fun (tough not exactly challenging any more) to catch Microsoft in a screw-up.

By the way, if you haven't seen it yet, probably the single most popular Apple ad is not seen on TV. It's the testimonial of one Ellen Feiss, who has inspired fan sites and a host of comment. Apple did create the commercial with Ms. Feiss, but - as you might understand when you see it - they pulled it from TV because of its rather - well, ambiguous nature. But it is a great and funny spot - and if you have any teens or college students hanging around, you might very well recognize the prototypical Ms. Feiss among them.

Small change makes a big difference in new batteries:
MIT scientists have discovered that small amount of common materials - much less expensive than the traditional cobalt - mixed with the materials found in the lithium ion matrix. Discovery promises smaller, safer batteries for electric cars. The article also describes how the discovery will enable smaller, lighter batteries for big jobs, like electric cars.

Maybe digital audio ain't all THAT?
If you are impressed by any news about further encroachment of digital technology in traditionally analog application, you will want to check out the Digital Audio Sucks Web site. Marc Ahlfs, a computer consultant, makes a cogent case against the current technology replacing analog applications - notably the commercial advent of digital radio. While technical, the explanation is quite accessible, and may surprise those who have just assumed that "digital" is synonymous with "better."

Cellphone use becomes even riskier
... especially if you are playing around and your spouse works for the government!

Tuesday, October 15, 2002

What Is the Internet Audience Worth These Days?

Advertising remains the perceived savior of the online medium. Whether or not that is so remains to be seen. But it certainly seems obvious that the traditional view and implementation of advertising on the Internet and in leading services - like AOL - have not shown stellar - and in some cases, even mediocre - performance. The time has come for some innovative thinking.

The story published by shows that much of the Internet media market is still focused on ways to cram more advertising down the throats of the Web user. More banners, more animation, more noise. It's everyone's focus, but with ample proof that this approach is simply not enough, it seems pointless.

Late last week, Jonathan Miller - new president of AOL - made similar comments (New AOL Executive Focuses on the Future), including the following:

"JM: Look at InStyle magazine. The thing weighs a ton. People like it because it has the most ads of all the fall fashions.

"People who read those magazines are looking for those ads. The key is how relevant you can make ads.

"Relevant ads can serve members, relevant ads with deals can be a further benefit, relevant ads with deals that members can act on right away become commerce. "

This kind of thinking is a bad habit that needs some kind of chewing gum or patch to break. Magazines don't make a good analogy for online media.

There are a few exceptional examples - in addition to InStyle, think Bride Magazine, Computer Shopper, etc. - where the collection of ads is in fact the point of the publication. This is a very seductive model to someone who has been told he has to sell a lot of ads.

Unfortunately, applying that model to Newsweek - er, sorry, Time Magazine - Sports Illustrated or even Family Circle or Cosmo, simply doesn't work. Imagine a Cosmo with 400 pages of ads - not a pretty picture. You have to look at each of the examples to determine what the customer is paying for.

And then there's the other fatal flaw of comparing an online service to a magazine: When you sell a magazine, you automatically have sold - as far as the advertiser is concerned - some multiple of exposures to the ad. All the ad exposures are bundled together with the sale of the single unit of the bound magazine. Since readership is generally bigger than sales, the total exposure factor can be 2X to 10X actual sales, or more. In fact, however, magazines don't actually deliver anywhere near the exposures publishers claim, but it is very expensive to do recall studies and such, and publishers and advertisers alike go along with the fiction of "bundled exposures" to an amazing degree.

The online medium, on the other hand, is saddled with metrics; great for the advertiser - but a real downer for the online publisher - because now you know with some precision the actual exposure of each ad. Companies like Procter & Gamble have asked for such metrics from all media - much to the horror of the publishing and advertising communities.

--> But this is the View Toward the Edge! We address real problems here! So what needs to happen to improve the revenue picture for an America Online in the advertising arena?

Mr. Miller would do his company a great service if he would start weaning people - analysts and advertisers - away from the magazine model. There needs to be new thinking about what "exposures" mean online. For example, if he started thinking about a "product placement" model - in things like toolbars, icons and other minutiae of the online environment - he might be able to recover some of those big contracts.

Sponsorship is another area where individual page hit count can mean less than overall recall of the advertiser, or the effective association of the advertiser with the area or "show" being sponsored.

In another recent article from the Wall St. Journal - "In Internet Access, AOL Feels
Microsoft's Evergrowing Reach
" - staffers are described considering how to re-design pages and other parts of the service:

"Mr. {VP Jim} Bankoff ordered up a raft of links to be embedded on the page, even though it had been designed to look like a page of a printed book rather than a Web page. "Let's really overdose on the community elements," he told the group. In the past, chats were often an afterthought. When the Harry Potter movie came out last fall, AOL staffers didn't think to build any special chat rooms in their "People Connection" area until they realized the extent of the Harry Potter phenomenon."

And then ...

"Mr. {Jimmy} de Castro {new head of programming for AOL} also has brought in some old-media techniques, such as online "shows" running at certain times. Some of the shows offer interactive live chats with celebrities, others package news, commentary and other information."

None of these are new ideas - they are old ideas with the possibility of being re-formatted, re-purposed. They also represent their own opportunities for sponsors and other advertising opportunities. And there are many more good ideas to pursue.

Advertising in general will likely undergo substantial changes across-the-board over the next few years, just because consumers are simply going to become inured to the advertising messages papering the walls of their consciousness. Something must be done to permit messages to stand out, to be unique.

The Internet today may become the proving ground for a more complete revolution in advertising just around the corner.

Moby Launches Book-Share
Pop star Moby (who really does trace his roots back to Herman Melville) is starting a book club of sorts as part of his current tour: ''When someone finishes a book, they put it in a little box and when someone else wants a new book, they look into the box and find one,'' he said. Plus: "Ozzy Osbourne used to snort ants. Led Zeppelin had sex with hookers on private planes. And I start a book club. Because one can only snort so many ants and have so much sex before one starts to long for the comfort and companionship of a book.'' (Extracted from Publisher's Lunch, a daily newsletter about book deals and the latest in the publishing world. Subscriptions are free.)
New Stuff:

Duct Tape heals! A recent study has suggested that the most effective cure for children's warts is a 6 day application of duct tape, repeated over a couple of months! Suggested by experience at an Air Force base in Tacoma Washington, a new study showed the technique compares very favorably against the standard liquid-nitrogen freezing approach.

Air-Driven car produces clean air output: A French engineer has figured out how to take outside air, compress it, and drive a light automobile - producing cleaner output than the air originally taken in. With a top speed of 55 MPH, and a range (at lower average speed) of about 120 miles, the car is considered to have a consumer future, and a factory is being constructed in France to produce them. Target price is around $10 - $14,000.

Genetic programing evolves a radio circuit: English scientists have used a technique called "genetic programming" - where the program can actually modify its own function and technique - to evolve a design of a radio receiver without direction or instruction from human programmers. Genetic programming has been used to solve many complex problems, but this may be the first time it has been used to develop a working physical design.