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Barter 2.0

The Times takes a look at the swapping phenomenon, using Peerflix and La La as examples:

[A]ccording to Billy McNair, chief executive of Peerflix, a DVD trading service based in Palo Alto, Calif. The company’s 250,000 members post titles of DVD’s they are willing to trade on the Web site (peerflix.com), which then facilitates the swaps by giving members printable forms that include postage and the recipient’s address.

Even though digital distribution is presumed to be the future for media businesses, Mr. McNair says he believes that physical media will remain the bedrock of the industry and of his business for the foreseeable future. About 1.5 billion DVD’s are purchased annually in the United States, he said, or about 20 a household. “And our members say they purchase more DVD’s now because they know that after they watch the movie it’ll still have value,” he said.

McNair's point is true for all products: the existence of an aftermarket—even a barter-based one—gives people an incentive to buy more.

They're nice, lightweight businesses, too: all they're providing is a database and the accompanying business logic to match users. The postal service handles all the fulfillment. As eBay will tell you, it's good to be a marketplace.

Link

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The Guy Behind the Guy at Apple

People often overlook the fact that Apple's more than just a successful design and marketing company—they're a well-run company, too. That's largely due to their #2 man, Tim Cook, profiled in a recent Wall Street Journal article.

When Mr. Jobs was recovering two years ago from surgery for pancreatic cancer, he placed the company's day-to-day operations in Mr. Cook's hands. Apple and people who know Mr. Jobs say the CEO is currently in good health and intends to remain at the company's helm for the foreseeable future.

Mr. Cook's low public profile notwithstanding, his contributions at Apple have earned him enough notice within technology circles that he is routinely solicited for CEO jobs, though the 45-year-old has voiced no near-term plans to leave Apple, say people who know him.

He pushed Apple parts suppliers to physically locate next to assembly plants for Apple products. That let the suppliers keep the parts in their inventory rather than Apple's own. By the end of the company's fiscal 1998 on Sept. 25 of that year, it held six days of inventory valued at $78 million, down from 31 days, or $437 million, the year earlier. Mr. Cook helped squeeze those figures down even further by the end of 1999, when inventory levels dropped to two days' worth, or about $20 million.

That's nearly a half-million of inventory off the books in three years. Apple's trailing 12 month inventory turnover ratio is 63.72, comparing favorably with efficiency poster boy Dell's 78.72, and blowing Gateway (19.82) and the big-iron-and-services-laden HP (9.86) out of the water. Apple manages to work this magic by making products people want (Steve's job) and keeping their manufacturing lean (Tim's job).

You can't help but wonder, though, when Steve goes (and, with his history with cancer, that could happen sooner than people—including Steve himself—might expect) is Tim the man to lead Apple?

Link [paid subscription required]

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Is It the Target Demo, the Community, or Just the Lack of Dead Trees?

This news from VentureBeat caught my Web 1.0 bubble-jaded eye:

Michael Moritz, venture capitalist with Sequoia Capital, and backer of Google and Yahoo, is apparently funding a blog company called Sugar Publishing, which runs four popular blogs, including flagship PopSugar, that caters to young, hip women.

The San Francisco start-up, which has a social networking component, says it is already getting 13 million monthly page views (or so it said in August), and 1.5 million unique visitors.

Rumor of the investment appeared here first. The amount is $5 million, as reported by Om Malik this evening, though we haven’t confirmed any of this.

Five mil is a lot of scratch for four blogs and a social networking hub, but when you compare it to the $25 mil or so Radar magazine blew through, perhaps being unemcumbered by dead trees makes media interesting again.

Link

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Jobs: Microsoft Zune is Girl Repellent

Newsweek has an interview with Steve Jobs where he discusses…aw, hell; let's just go straight to the pull quote everyone's using:

Microsoft has announced its new iPod competitor, Zune. It says that this device is all about building communities. Are you worried?
In a word, no. I've seen the demonstrations on the Internet about how you can find another person using a Zune and give them a song they can play three times. It takes forever. By the time you've gone through all that, the girl's got up and left! You're much better off to take one of your earbuds out and put it in her ear. Then you're connected with about two feet of headphone cable.

In other words, Microsoft's great community feature in Zune is all about how to connect with people in the same room without actually having to physically interact with them at all. Nerd heaven!

Otherwise, not many blockbuster confessions from Steve in the interview: simplicity is hard work, but people want elegant solutions; the iPod is still cool; the record companies need occasional beatings to prevent them from ripping off their customers; Steve likes Levis.

Link

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Toshiba Sets Their Display to Ludicrous Size

The Daily Mail is running this
picture
which features Toshiba's “Head Dome Projector” display,
designed for very immersive computer interaction:

Toshiba's 'Head Dome Projector' display.

According to DailyTech, the display was presented at the Society for Information Display 2006 symposium, which took place in June in San Francisco. Here's what they wrote:

The system exhibits a wide viewing
angle of 120 degrees horizontally by 70 degrees vertically without head
tracking, and 360 degrees x 360 degrees with head tracking. We assume
the head tracking feature is afforded by the fact that it sits right
over your head.

I'm sure I'm not the only person who saw the Toshiba display and immediately thought of this:

Rick Moranis as 'Dark Helmet' from the movie 'Spaceballs'.

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Superspyware Me!

Last week, we reported on a red MP3 player whose proceeds go to help people suffering from infectious diseases. Now we have a story about a red MP3 player that comes with its own infection.

McDonald's soft drink cup with MP3 player promotional material.

The Register reports:

McDonalds Japan has launched a recall after discovering that MP3
players it offered as a prize were loaded with a particularly nasty
strain of malware. Up to 10,000 people might have been exposed to the
problem after claiming a Flash MP3 player pre-loaded with ten tunes and
a variant of the QQpass spyware Trojan.

“QQPass” is the name given to a family of trojans that capture password information and transmit it to a third party. It is believed that a machine contaminated with this malware was used in the process of filling the MP3 players with music.

If you can read Japanese, this page will provide the number of a help line you can call for details about returning your McPod and removing the trojan. If you can't, you'll find this Babelfish translation of the page amusing. A snippet:

As for this prize the marketing store corporation (Hong Kong) from it is something which is delivered. Concerning the cause of infection, presently it is in the midst of investigating. Being placed on the customer, very much, you say and do not divide, apologize deeply. As in the future similar thing does not occur, it starts strengthening company internal system more.

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Friendster's Recipe for Mediocrity

If you had to reduce the New York Times article on Friendster, Wallflower at the Web Party, down to a set of bullet points on how to destroy a promising social software application, it would look something like this:

  • Inflate your ego to Ellisonian proportions; emulate Larry's social graces at parties.
  • Make sure that all the decision makers don't understand the concept of your application, don't use it and are well outside your target demographic.
  • Focus on adding new features and reaching new markets instead of fixing basic problems such as glacial response times. There's no money in user experience.
  • Obsess over what Google and Yahoo! will do rather than what you're going to do
  • Micromanage your users: rigidly control what they can post on their pages (Pictures of the actual user only! No joke pics, no pet pics!) and whose profiles they can see (only friends and friends of friends).
  • Leave users with nothing to do once they've entered their profile and amassed a collection of friends.

The article misses a small but significant point that turned off a lot of early adopters: Friendster's infamous firing of programmer Joyce “Troutgirl” Park, simply for blogging that they had switched back-ends from J2EE to PHP, something that could easily be discerned from the filename extensions of its web pages.