Who is this guy?  He has great aim.  Dodgers should pick him up.

Apple should buy Skype

December 14, 2008

Recently I ran into a poll at wired.com asking what people thought Apple should do with their 22 billion cash horde.  Some suggestions were wacky (GM,Microsoft), some where unimaginative (Adobe?).  I said Skype, and it got a few votes but within a few days it was off the top 10.  I wish I could find the article now, but Wired’s search is useless (searching for ‘apple’ returns zero articles!).

If you’d asked me last year I would have said they needed a studio so they could fasttrack their move to the living room.  It has been slow-going, but nowadays they seem to be working out their differences even with NBC, although I still think they could use taking minority positions (with just enough leverage) in smaller independent players, even foreign ones.  The AppleTV could be so great delivering niche content, even before the majors embrace it.

Skype is a case of a great product that has been largely underutilized by its owner.  Whatever synergies with eBay Meg Whitman foresaw never materialized.  The fact that it continues to thrive and grow without any strategic leadership is a testament to its intrinsic value and position in the market.  But Apple could really unlock its true potential.

Short term Skype would allow Apple to start breaking the chains of the AT&T contract: Skype on the iPod Touch + Skype-In would make an excellent free house phone (and remote control, and nightstand email-checker, etc.). It would also offer another avenue for Apple to reach Windows users and bring them into its bubble.

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As if they weren’t out of favor enough, the GOP continues to shrink its base.

They opposed a Detroit auto bailout in a last ditch effort to weaken the unions.  In the process they’ve alienated voters in Indiana, Ohio and other midwestern states that they would need to get back in the White House.

Such a useless exercise too:  Surely they must have known Bush would blink.  How could he afford to let Detroit fail and unemployment go to 10%? That would have singlehandedly solidified his record as the worst president ever.  No discussion necessary.

Wait there’s more: When the foreign manufacturers get hit (and they will soon), they will get bailed out by their respective governments, but not without first trimming away some of the excess capacity…. in Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, etc.  So who will come to the rescue of these non-union, unprotected, Southern white working folk?  Obama, who else.

It’s already looking like Republicans will be defending red territory again in ’12.

UPDATE 12/15/08: News today that a second Republican is not running for re-election on ’10, this one from Michigan.  Hmmm, I wonder what might have changed his mind.

The coming news coverage gap

December 14, 2008

Will micropayments save the day?

The recession is accelerating the inevitable: Papers are dying all around us.

Whether you view this with a sense of nostalgia, disbelief or excitement, and however you feel about new media, I see a big risk in this changeover.

You see, Arianna is happy to point out that blogs are starting to break the news, as in the case of Obama’s infamous ‘bitter cling to guns’ comment. Some bloggers do get scoops, especially around political news. And they’ve covered uprisings and natural disasters where the press wasn’t allowed or couldn’t reach.

Still, 99% of investigative reporting still comes from traditional news organizations, and blogs simply add an editorial and social layer on top.

Also, only a handful of bloggers can expect to make a living from their high-traffic sites.  Those who blog about niche or local issues don’t have viable businesses under the current advertiser-supported model.  They usually have a day job.

After all eyeballs move to the web advertising dollars will go farther and support more and more properties.  But in the meantime, what happens when the papers go bankrupt and city, Washington and foreign bureaus are shut down? when AP and Reuters aren’t there anymore? Will laid-off journos start blogging while waiting tables to pay the bills?

This process will be abrupt and messy, which is feedstock for innovation.  Solutions will be found.  So I’m not worried about the long term.  Encouraging models are starting to appear.

But in the short-term it would be so much cleaner if we had micropayments.  $0.05 for a news piece, $0.10 to read a feature article.

The concept has been tried before and failed, but perhaps this is the perfect opportunity to give it another go.  I hope someone is pitching this right now and will have a solid product in 09, just in time.

GOP operative rebuffed

December 14, 2008

This is just what I’m talking about when I say Republicans can’t reinvent themselves. The tactics they’ve been using for 50 years to bamboozle us simply don’t work anymore:

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How many people will watch this video online via YouTube, Digg, friend’s blog? How many times can this one guy try this before he’s widely considered just a silly idiot by everyone besides the 20% that watches Fox News?

That’s right.  Hillary at State was shrewd, almost machiavelian.

But putting Steven Chu at Energy effectively ends five decades of inaction on energy independence and transition to renewables.

It’s not just that he is a highly able and regarded Nobel winning physicist, or that he’s been at the forefront of renewable research for a decade, or that he’s been administering a 1.5B annual budget at Lawrence Berkeley.  Those are definitely welcome qualities to be sure, especially compared to the industry types and career politicians that have held the post recently.

However it is his understanding of how industry and academia can work together that will prove most valuable.  He negotiated a 500 million partnership between Berkeley and BP, and navigated through the touchy IP issues, with many critics at Berkeley breathing down his neck.

This addresses what I think is the biggest risk to Obama’s energy plan (other than the obvious political opposition by the GOP and oil/gas/coal):  The tendency for industry and academia to distrust each other and not work together openly and timely.

PBS’s News Hour ran a good piece from May 07 this week.

Too bad this announcement was overshadowed by the Blogojevich hoopla.

A reader to my recent housing market fix proposal correctly points out the potential for fraud.

The scheme would go like this (using the coverage limit for worse case scenario):

I buy for 1,000,000, four years later it is worth 800K fair market (20% lower).  So I have a 100K covered loss for which program would reimburse 50K.

I find a complicit buyer willing to pay me 720K, or 10% below market (less would raise flags and easily be investigated), so I can get an additional 40K reimbursed, and he pays me some amount under the table.  This makes sense only if buyer gives me more than 40K off-the-book, and to the buyer if he gives me less than 80K.  Say we split the take and he gives me 60K, and each make 20K on the deal.

Is this amount worth committing fraud and exposing oneself to jail time?  Is it worth for the buyer to report lower equity and to draw down 60K from cash or investments (mortgage was for lower, reported sale price).  Maybe, but only slightly, so a few simple, low-enforcement-cost guidelines would probably eliminate it completely:

1) Require seller to use an approved appraiser and a licensed realtor, and list the property on the MLS (so bids are open and recorded by realtor).

2) 20K isn’t much, but speculators could try doing it repeatedly, flipping multiple properties for small but quick successive gains.  So change tax code so buyers in such a transaction have to pay taxes on gains over 10% if property is resold within 2 years.