Doing it with GroupOn

December 27th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

There is a big discussion going on about GroupOn‘s business model. After the company refused Google’s acquisition offer, nobody could decide whether the company owners were just too crazy or too brilliant, confident in their business ability to outperform any kind of offer Google could come up with–and that after Google virtually double its initial offer.

John Battelle is one of the ones who think that GroupOn made the right choice. He writes:

Good sources have told me that GroupOn is growing at 50 percent a month, with a revenue run rate of nearly $2 billion a year (based on last month’s revenues). By next month, that run rate may well hit $2.7 billion. The month after that, should the growth continue, the run rate would clear $4 billion.

Battelle attributes this to a combination of factors (relationships, location, and timing–see the article for a more in-depth explanation) that make GroupOn’s appeal to small business pretty much irresistible. As he notes in his article, that run rate is the triple of what Google itself experienced in its early years.

I was talking to a friend a while back about social buying and he said the major problem that will affect and eventually kill GroupOn’s–and all of it other clones, by extension–is churn, that is, the fact the a lot of the offers were creating problems for the businesses using the platform. In fact, there have been a lot of reports about people being mistreated if they came bearing a GroupOn or equivalent coupon, and I have heard some of those stories first-hand. In many of those cases, the business owners had miscalculated what they could or should offer and were unhappy with the entire experience, consequently becoming less and less interested in working again with GroupOn or their local clone.

But I believe that the churn we are seeing right now is just a consequence of the way new markets behave. If Battelle is right–and I believe he is–the rate of churn will fall with time as business begin to find their sweet spots in the social buying ecosystem. I don’t see why, for example, GroupOn can’t offer a tool that will allow business to input some parameters and find the ideal price for a given offer. Granted, that will never be exactly precise but will give most business owners using the platform a way to avoid the most extreme problems.

But, ultimately, I believe that GroupOn will succeed because it’s changing the way people are relating to those business using social buying to attract them. Recently, talking to two other friends, they told me how our local clones had impacted their buying patterns.

One of them, a 40-ish divorced guy, said he wouldn’t dine out anymore unless he had a coupon and that the coupons were helping him to raise the bar with regards the kind of places he was able to go to in a single month. Previously, going to a more expensive place meant he was able to do that just a couple times each month. With the help of coupons, he was going to more expensive places one or more times each week. That’s a huge change in spending patterns and one that’s benefitting him and the restaurants he likes.

But other guy, a 30-year-old or so guy, said social buying was actually helping him to get laid. You see, this is a single guy who is using a variety of coupons–for restaurants, spas, clothing, small items–to impress and convince women to have sex with him. He is still using a considerable amount of money, but GroupOn and the likes are helping him to spend that money in a more efficient way towards his objects–which, right now, are pretty much limited to getting laid as many times as possible with as many women as possible. And it’s pretty evident from the way the market works that any business that helps people to get laid–or find any measure of sexual satisfaction for the matter–is in much better condition to thrive.

So there you have it: people are getting laid using GroupOn. That makes GroupOn business position a much stronger one. Battelle is right, from the small business’ point of view–but my friend is also right, from the consumer’s point of view.

Either way, GroupOn wins.

iPhone? iPhone!? I want a Phone!

January 9th, 2007 § 0 comments § permalink

And I thought a Linux-based mobile phone would be cool… A cell phone without a keyboard? Without a keyboard!? A [cell phone without a keyboard][2], which is also an iPod and with 8GB internal memory!?

Holy crap! Holy, holy crap! Programmable and extensible (I assume it is, because it runs OS X). Forget Windows Mobile, forget QTek, Blackberry and any other mobile company. It will be Zune versus iPod, which is no comparison at all. I will pay–whatever price–they will charge.

I remember reading on Wired a couple years ago (the dead-tree version then) about a man who had programmed his own handheld to be his primary computer. At work, the handheld plus a keyboard plus two monitors. At home, the handheld plus a keyboard plus a monitor or the TV. The handheld was his remote control and everything else–except it was not a phone. Apple brought this much closer to the market.

With something like the iPhone and a couple acessories, the desktop will begin to die. The PC era, as Om Malik said, is over. And because of a phone.

By the way, Read/Write Web has an interesting breakdown of the features.

Back to what matters: I want a phone, mister! Right now. Want to know the worst part: considering that I live in Brazil, it may never be available here, or cost a small fortune.

Ion3 and Conkeror

January 7th, 2007 § 4 comments § permalink

After I permanently moved to Emacs as my primary text editor, I got so used to the ease of running multiple actions by the mere use of a few keystrokes that I’m trying to do the same thing all the time in other applications. Unfortunately, and quite obviously indeed, any such attempts failed with the exception of a few coincidences.

Recently, I decided to try a few alternatives I found to maximize the Emacs “experience” in my daily use of computers.

The first alternative was to use Ion3 as my primary window manager under Ubuntu. Ion3 is a minimalist window manager, with a strong emphasis on the use of the keystrokes to access both the interface and application. It uses frames, easily accessible via simple key combinations, as a way to partition screen space. The convenience of such setup can only be really seen trying it. One of the most interesting advantages of Ion3 so far is the ability to use a kind of full screen mode for applications, without menus, window borders or any other additional baggage. Very productive, indeed. Obviously, given Ion3 relative immaturity, a few glitches are still present in some tasks.

The second alternative was Conkeror, a Mozilla extension that completely modifies its interface to resemble Emacs, with familiar key bindings and concepts.

The experience has been positive so far, although I could do way with a few details in both applications. Fortunately, both are strongly customizable and I’m experimenting with different approaches to really find out how viable both Ion3 and Conkeror are for daily use. It may turn out that I should not keep using them. Muscle memory may get me addicted to them, and since I’m still required to use Windows as part of my daily work, I may get so used to a very different desktop that I’ll not work quite as well on any other setup.

Anyway, if anybody knows of other similar options, I’d like to hear about them.

Microsoft reinventing itself?

October 8th, 2006 § Comments Off § permalink

Via BoingBoing, an interesting analysis on Wired about Ray Ozzie‘s ascension as Microsoft’s new chief software architect, and what that means in light of the company’s current business model and role as an innovator.

Microsoft is no longer seem as the boogeyman of the software industry, even though it still holds its dominant position in the market. The articles does an interesting job in detailing the historical reasons for that and–even though it fails to resist the temptation to compare Microsoft to IBM–it also points out the possibilities represented by the moves already initiated by Ozzie and his allies at Microsoft. Nobody would say, a few years ago, that users and developers using Internet Explorer would have to deal with the consequences of something like the Eolas ruling. That’s what happened, nonetheless, and it’s one of the things the represent the shift in market perception about Microsoft–probably as much as the impact of open source and interoperability efforts–in the way Microsoft is trying to reeducate itself for a new generation of consumers.

The article reflects some of the doom mantras that mirror the zelot style of the declared enemies of the company, but I think bridges are much more interesting in this case. I have been working with companies which base their products exclusively on Microsoft technology for yeqrs already and seeing the way they look at the “world outside,” it’s easy to understand the disbelief expressed by the article–as evidenced by Cory Doctorow’s reaction to the article.

Nonetheless, I think it’s easy to see what a radical change in Microsoft would means to industry. Ironically, I think that may happen as a result of automatic inertia inside the company, something that would not be visible for outsiders today. Since I’m an outsider as well, I can’t say for sure that that is what going to happen. In a company like Microsoft, though, anything is possible.

The future will tell which vision of Microsoft reinvention will come to pass. But it would not be the first time the company succeeded–and maybe they will succeed for better this time, learning from the past.

Naked Day

April 5th, 2006 § Comments Off § permalink

Utterly naked, and not so proud of it since my WordPress theme has navigation coming before the content and no link to skip it.

RSS as a platform

March 18th, 2006 § Comments Off § permalink

With the recent developments in the RSS world, including the launching of Windows RSS Plataform, the discussions about the use of the format as real platform is undergoing a change. Now, there is a lot of talk about how developers can maximize the potential of the format e how they can solve the existing infrastructure problems.

In all that I have read, I didn’t see much discussion about mutable RSS feeds, that is, interactive feeds that allows users to pass data through the aggregator itself, changing the future behavior of the feed based on their choices.

Obviously, support for such interactivity isn’t present in the current crop of aggregators — at least, in none of the many I know and/or tried. In fact, a persistent fear of security problems that could be caused by such interactivity pervades the entire area. XSS and similar exploits caused most aggregators developers to completly eliminate the use of objects, forms and JavaScript inside RSS feeds.

Such an approach puts extreme limits on what you can do with RSS, of course. More than an year ago, answering a question posed by a friend of mine, I wrote here about interactive RSS feeds. The application I designed to test the concept at the time (a very simple prototype) is still running and can be accessed in the test area of this site. It’s a RS feeds that instead of simply presenting content, allows users to act on its entries. Given the limitations present in the current generation of feed readers, you will probably need to open each entry in the browser to see the feed in action.

The big question is: what can we really do with RSS? Is a read-only platform enough? I don’t think so. Considering the context in which I created the application mentioned above, that of a course served through RSS, a read-only plataform is not that interesting. A typical course has an activity tree that’s completely dependent on the students’ choices. A read-only format would not provide a complete experience in such a scenario.

As mentioned before, there are real security concerns involved in allowing users to interact with a feed. Allowing any kind of content can lead to episodes like the one caused by Mark Pilgrim a couple years ago, whose RSS feed “took control” of hosting computer with a clever use of HTML. The text he wrote later about the subject impacted the development of an entire generation of aggregators. Yet, browsers handle the same issues today and — despite some problems — they do just fine.

Before I start repeating what I already said in the other article, I believe RSS can evolve a lot beyond what it is today. New applications — especially in the much hyped Web 2.0 style — depend on a bigger possibility of interaction than that offered by aggregators today. Since the competition in the area seems to be big, I guess it won’t take long until we see changes.

Brazilian online store launches digital services store

June 25th, 2005 § Comments Off § permalink

I must be the last one to realize it, but a popular online store here in Brazil, Americanas, launched three digital services stores: a digital photo printing service, a music download service (in the mold of iTunes and Yahoo! Music), and a mobile ring tones store. The musics are still DRM-locked (and it’s likely they will remain so) but it’s a start given the store’s popularity.

Tao

June 24th, 2005 § Comments Off § permalink

I’ve been working with UNIX and UNIX-like systems for a long time already and I never cease to be amazed at the differences in philosophy between those systems and other operating systems.

Recently, I was moving a system from a server to another, and, for various reasons, I had to modify every page in the system. In a Windows system that would require me to use a variety of complete applications, but on Linux it took me only two utilities: a recursive wget to download the system from a server to the other, and a similarly recursive rpl to change the things I needed in each page — directly in the server’s command line. The use of wget was required because I had only FTP access to the first server.

On Windows, even if I had remote access to the server, I would likely have to install a FTP client, a complete application, to download the files. Then I would have to install a text editor with support for recursive search and replace. That’s not hard, but I still would have to install them. (And most times when I’m consulting on Windows, I find exactly this setup in clients’ servers: FTP clients and text editors). Without remote access, something Windows administrators don’t like to grant, unlike UNIX administrators, it would have been even harder.

Of course, you can simulate a UNIX environment on Windows. But the unholy trinity power-flexibility-simplicity I so value in any computing environment is not inherent to Windows as it is for Linux, out of the box.

Mobile Internet

June 14th, 2005 § Comments Off § permalink

My recent experiments with the mobile Web gave me a new understanding of how far we still are from really supporting mobile users. Excepting a few sites specifically designed for the small and limited screen of handhels and cell phones, most sites don’t offer any support at all for mobile devices.

The screens in my cell phone (176×208) and in my handheld (320×320) are reasonably large for such devices. Using them, it is possible to browse most sites I want to,but sometimes at the cost of many frustating minutes.Not because the sites don’t render well (Opera, my preferred mobile browser, does a very good job of converting most sites to a layout better suited for mobiel devices), but because of additional complexities relating to usability and accessibility.

A couple sites — for example, Bloglines and Google Search — are available in special versions specifically suited for mobile devices. But even those sites sin by trying to keep their mobile versions as close as possible to their normal versions.

Google Search’s result screen, for example, is nearly identical in both versions. I’d rather have more context and fewer links in each page because that would save me both money and time allowing me to choose the right result quicker.

Bloglines’s mobile version is very good, but fails slightly by keeping a huge image in each page and by forgetting to optimize the feed page, which sometimes can be really huge. Considering that some phone companies charge for the KB, the cost of access can grow quickly.

Other sites,. like Fictionwise, which I use a lot, are virtually unusable on mobile devices — which, in Fictionwise’s case, is ironic, considering mobile users are their primary public.Fictionwise’s homepage is over 100KB even without loading its related images. Were the site designed for mobile devices, it would be possible to buy and download e-books directly to the Palm or cell phone, without having to use the PC as a middleman.

Ironically, many blogs look good on mobile devices, thanks to the proliferation of Blogger- and MovableType-based layouts, which are commonly done in XHTML and CSS, degrading gracefully in most situations.

Another problem I see in the mobile Web is the indiscriminate use of Ajax techniques. The two browsers I use the most in my mobile devices support JavaScript well, but their speed is nowhere close to desktop browsers . Also, their support for dynamic changes in the pages is much more limited. And since most of the interaction with the page should be done via a keypad, other challenges arise as well.

The graceful degradation of JavaScript and images in something every mobile developer should consider. The normal Bloglines site, for example, fails silently in the absence of JavaScript. Users are left with a blank screen wondering what happened to all their feeds. In the absence of proper degradation, some sites tend to provide frustrating usability.

That was my experience so far. In short, it’s perfectly possible to browse the Web through mobile devices, but that the experience is still very far from that supplied by a desktop browser.

Mobility

June 10th, 2005 § Comments Off § permalink

As my (nano-)company grows, so do my needs for data mobility. I often need to manage my server, read and send e-mails, and fix problems in pages and Web applications when I’m away from my office or from my home.

Since I’m not yet read to buy a notebook (various reasons for that including price, size, security and transportation), I opted for a smaller solution: a handheld and an Internet-enabled cell phone.

Since I already owned a Tungsten E, which doesn’t include Bluetooth, I had to choose a cell phone with IrDA support to be able to connect the Palm to the Internet through it when I’m on the road. I first thought about buying a Siemens CX65, which looked nice, but ended buying a Nokia 6600, which I found for an excellent price.

The 6600 is much better than the CX65, of course. Since it’s a smartphone, running Symbian, it’s able to do many of the things my Palm does. But I found redundancy is interesting when I’m not willing to carry both devices to a given place. Also, some applications work better in the Palm while others are better in the 6600. For example, PuTTY, my favorite SSH client, is available for the 6600 but not for the Palm.

(By the way, nothing as cool as getting phoned by a client, logging into the server via the cell phone itself while you’re talking to him, solving his problem, and notifying him of the solution immediately. All that while you are in route to a meeting.)

The result of this combination, surprisingly, is a good mix of flexibility and mobility. The devices are small, and easy to carry. Although they use enough power to require daily recharges (both use memory cards, which seem to drain colossal amounts of power), I had never had a problem with one of they dying on me in the midst of the day.

The biggest problem with such portable devices, in my opinion, is that inputting text quickly is still hard. It’s the only way in which the reduced size of the devices is a hindrance, rather than a blessing.

In the cell phone, you are limited to the predictive input system available to it. Nokia’s T9 is good (not as good as Motorola’s I-TAP, though) and as the 6600 runs a real OS, copying, pasting, and general editing is relatively easy. The 6600 is also bigger than a normal cell phone which allows me to use both hands to input data. But there’s always the occasional problem with applications that don’t follow the system’s conventions and switching between two languages, as I often do, it’s still a pain.

On the Palm side, handwriting recognition is the best option, and, with a little practice, you can write as fast as you would do when writing with pen and paper. But when you need to edit bigger documents, handwriting is not fast enough. I’m now thinking about buying a foldable keyboard for the Palm, although that will mean I’ll need to carry yet another device.

With both the Palm and the 6600, I can do almost everything I can do in the office: send and receive e-mails, browse (internet-banking, news, RSS, etc), edit documents (text documents, spreadsheets, and presentations), keep a to-do list and a calendar, remotely access my server, read e-books, do instant messaging, control my finances, and so on. I can even use the Palm as a multimedia and platform, listening to music and audio books, and watching videos.

Unfortunately, GPRS connection speeds are still very slow—less than 56kpbs most the time—and the price is still a bit high. As far as I know, none of the cell phone companies in my city offers an unlimited access plan.

But the market is clearly evolving, and this kind of combination is becoming very common from what I’m seeing here.

A couple weeks ago, I listened to an ad by a cell phone company offering a service that listens to a song through your cell phone, and returns a text message identifying the song. A couple years ago, I heard that was being offered in Europe, and it’s interesting to see it finally being offered here. It’s means our market is maturing, which is also corroborated by the number of advanced cell phones being now sold here, including smartphones and GSM/EDGE-enabled phones, with better connection speeds.

A growing market for smartphones may reduced the market for handhelds, and Palm seems to be preparing itself for that eventuality with offerings like the Treo. The cell phone screens keep growing better, programs are being developed, and, with a bit more effort, the problem of inputting data quickly can be solved. Nokia seems to be working feverishly on the problem, as demonstrated by the various input systems of its new phone models.

All in all, despite the limitations, the Palm and 6600 combination is literally saving my life, allowing me to keep informed about my company situation at all times, and allowing me to solve problems anytime, anywhere. If the technology gets a little better, I may even dump my office desktop.

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