Holiday shopping in 2010

comScore is reporting that consumers spent nearly $22Bn online during the first 40 days of the 2010 holiday shopping period. This represents a 12% increase from the same period in 2009.

Since Ingrid and I have already shifted our holiday shopping online this trend is hardly surprising to me. Rather than fighting the crowds in the shopping mall, we logged onto Amazon from the comfort of our couch and got nearly everything on our gift list in a matter of minutes. Rather than lugging a suitcase full of toys, clothing, and other assorted gifts to our annual family gathering in New York, we used Amazon Prime’s free two day shipping to make sure that it all will be there waiting for us when we arrive. Even when we needed a gift from a nearby specialty retailer, Heath Ceramics‘s slick and easy-to-use site saved us at least an hour and a half trip to their Sausalito store.

Of course there will still be some occasions when you’ll find that you have to go to the retailer for one reason or another. Over the weekend we went into a Best Buy to get some firsthand advice from one of their knowledgable blue shirts, but after he had provided all the advice we needed I took out my handy Amazon barcode scanner to compare the Best Buy price with Amazon’s to see if I could save money by buying online. Many of the times you do this you’ll find big savings just a single click away on their mobile app. Last week in a similar situation at Bloomingdales we saved over $100 on a piece of luggage.

E-commerce was all of the rage in the late 90’s. Then the bubble burst and the hype largely disappeared. But all along more and more consumers have increased their online spending. Digital natives finally have significant money in their pocketbooks, and not surprisingly, they start all of their shopping online. Given shifting demographics, this trend will accelerate.

If you’re starting a company in the e-commerce space there is a massive opportunity in front of you. Just putting up a store online and selling products isn’t the best way to attract customers, but if you make the shopping experience more fun and social, if you make it more personalized, if you develop new business models that better meet your customer’s needs, then you’ve got the opportunity to build an amazing company.

Holiday shopping in 2010

Time to sell GOOG?

There is an interesting theory out there saying that Harvard grads (and in particular HBS grads) collectively serve as a good leading indicator of where the US equity market is going. In a nutshell, the theory goes that if lots of HBS grads are headed to Wall St., then the markets are overvalued and headed south. Conversely, if fewer HBS grads are going into the world of high finance, then the markets have goodness in store for all of us. Basically, HBS students don’t like to show up to the party until everyone else has already arrived, and more often than not, they arrive just as everyone else has decided to leave and go home.

As for the 2007 HBS graduating class, it appears that 40% are headed for “market sensitive” careers, up from 37% in 2006 and 30% in 2005. So if you believe the theory, then you better be selling! Or rather you better have been selling already because as you see in the graph below, all of the major indices are down in the last 12 months (i.e., basically since the time the 2007 class graduated).


But enough with the intro. On to my point. Fortune magazine just came out with its annual list of the top 100 most desirable MBA employers. And while it doesn’t allow you to break out the list to just HBS grads, let’s assume for a moment that all MBA grads – not just the poor folks at HBS – are bad at picking their career paths. If the theory works for all MBA students, then perhaps this list enables you to infer not only which way the stock market as a whole is headed, but also where specific companies are headed?

Who’s at the top of the list for the class of 2008? Google. Does this mean GOOG is ready for a fall? Well, they were #2 in 2006 and the stock rocketed upwards during the year that followed that class’s graduation. By 2007 they had got the #1 spot, but the stock is still slightly up since the 2007 MBA grads joined the workforce.

Could this finally be the year the theory works and GOOG drops? Should we sell? Should we sell AAPL (#4 on the 2008 list)?

My own hypothesis: the theory might work fairly well when guessing the direction of the market as a whole, but it will break down and have less success when applied to individual companies. Get a big enough sample size and you will be okay. Focus in on a single data point (or company) and there are too many external factors that could change the outcome. In statistical terms, pick a single point in a normal distribution and you may be well off the mean. But take the full sample and you’ll zero right in on the mean.

Or perhaps the MBA grads are not as quite as useless as every engineer in the valley suspects!

Time to sell GOOG?

Twitter: just a dumb pipe?

So I’ve been experimenting with Twitter a bit more over the last month – not a obscene amount like a number of tech geeks out there (I’ve posted only 7 times since Mar. 30), but definitely a ramp in usage for me (during the 10 months prior I posted only 4 times).

In any event, my experimentation has lead me to come to two conclusions:

Observation #1:

People are no longer using Twitter just for broadcasting “what they are doing” despite what Twitter’s home page says. To prove my hypothesis I looked at the most recent 20 “tweets” from the people that I follow (this is what the home page displays by default) and classified them into the three primary use buckets that I’ve observed: (1) status message (i.e., the original use case for Twitter), (2) 1-to-1 messages, and (3) random thought/linkblog/microblog (i.e., everything else that is not a 1-1 message or a “what you are doing” status update). The end result was:
– 40% status messages
– 10% 1-to-1 messages
– 50% random thought/linkblog/microblog

Obviously this is a small sample set, and one that is heavily skewed to the heavy Twitter users that I follow. Nonetheless, it gives some sense for how people are using it. Interestingly, if I look at the last 20 tweets from everyone (not just the people I follow):
– 60% are unknown (i.e., I don’t know because they are not in English)
– 5% are status messages
– 5% are 1-to-1 messages
– 30% are random thought/linkblog/microblog

What does this all mean? It means that Twitter is evolving from a single type of communication into a mode of communication. If you are Twitter, this is all very good news. Their addressable market is expanding.

Observation #2:

Twitter is becoming a dumb pipe. Both on the authoring and receiving ends, it seems that many people are using end points other than (see here and here and here). Once again looking at the last 20 tweets from my friends, I see the following distribution of “authoring” end points:
– 35%
– 30% twhirl
– 20% blog it (facebook app)
– 10% text/mobile
– 5% twinkle

Of course, using a limited sample data set from my friends only is even more problematic in this context as compared to the “message type” context described in observation #1. In this context, there are many more end point options than message types, and as such you need a much larger data set to make meaningful conclusions about which are most used. That being said, the last 20 tweets from everyone (not just my friends) indicated a similar pattern (i.e., only 45% of tweets were made via the web on So while I’m very likely way off on the popularity of the various third party applications vs. each other, I’m probably not that far off on the popularity of vs. all of the third party applications combined.

And what does this mean? Not good for Twitter. Over time I will not be surprised to see some of the end points generate more value than Twitter the company. The end point is where users interact with the service. That is where companies can serve ads, bundle toolbars, include search boxes, etc. There is no doubt that opening up the network to third party developers was a huge driver of growth for Twitter the network. But if Twitter doesn’t invest in their own front end applications they might find it very difficult to ever generate significant value for themselves in the future.

Jon Postel may have been the driving force behind the SMTP standard, but he never achieved the same commercial success of Microsoft Exchange, Yahoo! Mail, Hotmail, or even Gmail. Developing a standard can generate lots of value for users and developers across the Internet, but it’s not necessarily a good recipe for commercial success.

Twitter: just a dumb pipe?

Waiting for the 3G iPhone

I got my first taste of 3G mobile browsing over a year ago when I bought the RAZR v3xx and I absolutely loved it. Combining 3G with an unlimited data plan ($20 per month on AT&T) changes your life. Pages load in a snap, and all of a sudden using a WAP browser is actually enjoyable – so enjoyable that I found myself going to WAP sites (e.g., Yahoo! Mail) even when java client versions of the product existed (e.g., Yahoo! Go). The ESPN WAP site is also particularly good if you are constantly checking sports scores like me.

Anyways, my phone died over a month ago and ever since I’ve been falling back on an old RAZR v3 that was collecting dust. In a few words, it’s been brutal. It’s so f’ing slow, which basically makes it unusable. Luckily I also have a corporate Blackberry I can use to connect to the web when on the go, but I don’t bring this phone with me all the time. This means that there are now lots of times that I have no access to the internet, a predicament that wouldn’t be a big deal for some people (e.g., my mom and dad), but is a major problem for a hyper-connected geek like me.

I thought about getting the iPhone right away after my v3xx died, but with all the rumors of a 3G iPhone on the way soon I decided to tough it out until June. Why get a device with such great Internet browsing capabilities (i.e., the large screen and the Safari browser) if you can’t surf on the 3G network, and you’d also find yourself coveting the new iPhone just a few months later?

Thankfully June is approaching quickly. And now there is more news about the impending iPhone reported first on Times Online, and later referenced by Silicon Alley Insider. The speculation this time around is about a “radically different” appearance (e.g., a flip phone version or one with a real QWERTY keyboard). It seems strange to think about an iPhone that doesn’t look like the iconic version we are all used to. Of course if they do come out with something radically different, something tells me that Apple will nail it – just like they did when they came out with each subsequent version of the iPod.

June can’t come soon enough.

Waiting for the 3G iPhone

Surprising revelation about Facebook news feed

After reading this post on Techcrunch I had a mix of emotions.

First, I felt stupid for never figuring this out before. Like many others, I have deleted a number of items from my mini-feed in the past, and every time I had assumed that those items would then promptly be deleted from my friends’ news feeds. Evidently this is not the case. Shame on me I suppose, for not testing and figuring this out on my own.

Then again, was I really being careless and stupid? Is it really that unreasonable to assume that a message indicating that “hiding will remove the story from your Mini-Feed and prevent anyone from seeing it” means that you are indeed preventing “anyone from seeing it”? Considering these two features (i.e., the new feed and the mini feed) were released at the very same time, it does not seem like that far a stretch to me. Techcrunch calls it “a poorly worded notification”. I call it blatantly misleading.

Finally (and most importantly!), it is just a bad product experience. Searching on Facebook’s help pages for “news feed” I came across the following question and answer:

Q: How do I hide my News Feed and Mini-Feed?

A: At this time you cannot turn these features off completely. Facebook allows you to prevent certain types of stories from being published about yourself. From the Privacy page, just click on the link titled “News Feed and Mini-Feed Privacy.” Unchecking one of the story types means that there will be no News Feed or Mini-Feed stories generated about your account for that particular action…

What this means is that it is either all or none when it comes to publishing particular actions in your friends’ news feeds. So for example, if I say it is okay to share events, then I have to be comfortable sharing all of my events. I can’t selectively choose which events are okay to share and which are not, which is really what I’d like to do.

Surprising revelation about Facebook news feed

Hulu is awesome

So with some of the TV shows coming back on the air this week for the first time since the writer’s strike, my DVR finally woke up from its long winter hibernation. Getting home late on Thursday night, I missed The Office at its regular time. Of course this was no problem for me because I knew that my trusty DVR got it all.

When finally watching the episode the next day (which by the way was absolutely brilliant), my eye was caught by a promo for 30 Rock. It’s a show that I really like, but since I’ve only seen it a few times, most of which were right before the strike, it never made it into my DVR recording list. So what did I do? I went to Hulu. Sure enough, right there waiting for me was “The MILF Island” episode of 30 Rock (nearly as brilliant as The Office). Once mocked by Google employees as “Clown Co.”, these guys are now bringing it. The video player is f’ing awesome. Turn down the lights for a more cinematic feel. Go full screen and still have great video quality. Embed or share the whole episode, or easily grab just the clips (you pick the starting and stopping time) that you want to share. And most importantly, they have great content (screw buying the A-Team DVD, you got it right here). Bottom line, this is what watching television on the web should be.

As a random side note, I stumbled on this this clip below, and am now convinced that Angela from the office (whose real name is evidently also Angela…who knew?!) is one of the greatest actresses of our time. Seriously, is this the same person? You can tell that Pam basically plays herself in the show, but Angela is like Jekyll and Hyde.

Hulu is awesome