poelog: Commentary, thoughts and opinions on the web, ebusiness and marketing -- a web log by Rob Poel
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Friday, June 29, 2001

Was browsing around eBay and decided to check out their Professional Services area. As of this posting the average bid for a "complete e-commerce site for off-site retailer" is $1,220. Who says there are high hurdles of entry to get into eCommerce ;-)

Perhaps I should consider reading this. We're in the midst of some *major* negotiations right now that will dictate the future of my project. At this point, all I care about is whether we "get to yes." Perhaps that's why I wouldn't be a good negotiator -- I'm not ready to "walk away."

Well ... I bit the bullet and junked the ads on my weblog by paying Blogger $9.95 from my PayPal account. I just gained 60 pixels of screen real estate - woo-hoo!

Thursday, June 28, 2001

The Standard: Investors Who Like Risk Should Like Yahoo - Internet analyst Mary Meeker said she still thinks Yahoo! is a good investment. If you like to take risks. In my Datek IRA I paid $22 for Yahoo (YHOO) 3 years ago. 18 months later the stock was up over 600%. Another 18 months later and the stock is trading at $19 and change - 15% below where I purchased it. What I ride. I think I'll hold on. Ten years from now I could be up another 600% again.

Spent some time browsing MBA Jungle at Barnes & Noble last night. Some pretty good content ... although, I wonder if this is a publication that will survive over the long haul.

Microsoft cutting Smart Tags from new Windows - This will make a lot of people happy. Ever since the 'smart tags' feature was introduced it's ruffled the feathers of many-a-technology pundit.

Wednesday, June 27, 2001

NextDraft - Great source of news - covers everything from sports, world news, and business news with entertaining commentary (via kottke)

Man, the last couple days have been crazy. I've been holed up ALL day with eProcurement consultants again - hence the low number of posts.

Happy Anniversary to me. Yesterday, June 26, was my 8 year wedding anniversary. Amazing how time flies. Tonight we celebrate (I was helping out with a sports camp for our chruch last night). To celebrate we're dropping my son, Tyler, off at my parent's house and then heading to dinner and a 7:00 showing of Pearl Harbor. We're both looking forward to it.

I'm going to have to consider this. No ads on blogspot for only $9.95 per year. Not a bad deal.

Monday, June 25, 2001

CNET.com - Amazon free shipping may come at a price - Interesting. I credit Amazon for continuing to try new tactics to influence consumers. It shows, however, that consumers will constantly will try and find a way to circumenvent the process to get a better deal. Case in point (as noted at the end of the article): "The Book of Hope" - list price of $0.49 - is quickly rising through the sales ranks as consumers look for cheap products to add to their order to trip the free shipping option.

Have-It-Your-Way Web Sites Start To Catch On - Should be something we should be contemplating (via Tomalak).

This is great - a usability analysis of Nielsen's Useit.com. Not sure who even published this ... it's hosted in a personal area of some ISP. Pretty well done though. It cleverly borrows Neilsen's style sheet even. (via Metafilter).

Sunday, June 24, 2001

Read this interesting piece on Google in the print edition of the Hamilton Spectator this past weekend. I didn't know that Salon syndicated their content to newspapers. Makes sense. The print edition actually carried a truncated version of this but in reading it I can tell it was the same story.

I'm back from the Great White North. Good weekend. Good wedding. Good to be back.

Quick aside ... on the topic of Canada again ... if you haven't seen the "I AM JOE and I AM CANADIAN" Molson Canadian ad that was extremely popular throughout Canada last year you have to check it out. It addresses every Canadian stereotype you can think of. Great ad.

Looks like Ad Critic has redesigned their site. The redesign actually lends an aire of credibility to the site now. This is one of those sites you just need to check every other week or so to keep up on the latest and greatest commercials.

Thursday, June 21, 2001

In another couple hours I'm off to Hamilton, Ontario (Canada for those of you who are geographically ignorant about our neighbors to the north). My brother-in-law is getting married on Saturday. I doubt I'll get access to the web while I'm gone (my in-laws don't even have touch-tone dialing on their phone, let alone net access). So ... it'll be Monday before I post again.

ClickZ : Content Is Not a Technology Issue. An important reminder: technology is a tool, an enabler, if you will, ... people and process come first, technology second.

ZDNet: Story: My smug send-off to the CueCat: I told you so! I received the CueCat in the mail while working at iBelieve.com. Within 10 seconds of opening the box and trying it I knew this product would fail. What a dumb concept! Marketers love it. Users hate it. Not a good formula for success (via UnChartered Shores).

Wednesday, June 20, 2001

Ugh! Gotta hate it when a source I respect decides to short a stock I own. Affymetrix (AFFX) is actually one of the holdings in my Silver Street Investment Club (a club I've been in with two of my college buddies since November of 1997). We bought the stock in December of 2000 and were quickly up about 50% a month later. 2001, however, has been a rocky ride for the stock. We're now down over 60% on our purchase, mostly thanks to a recent revenue shortfall warning. I wish it was as psycholologically easy to sell a stock as it is to buy one.

Just received a "Service Notice" regarding new fees from my online broker, Datek Online. There is definitely a shift occuring in which online businesses are finally, by necessity, beginning to charge for products and services in a similar fashion to their offline brethren. Although as a consumer it's sad to see the free ride end, I think in the long run its a good thing. In the case of Datek, as of September 1, 2001, they will charge a $15 "inactivity fee" per quarter unless an account is a retirement account, or it maintains a value of $5000, or it executes 4 or more trades in the prior 6 month period. Since I'm a loyal Datek user I want to see them stay in business so I applaud this move. It's always a good idea to let go of the unprofitable customers anyway ... this way they either leave or they stay and get charged appropriate for doing so.

Being a Mac fan at heart I'd someday like to take A Stroll Through the Apple Store (via the O'Reilly Network).

Tuesday, June 19, 2001

Just paid Nielsen his suggested payment of $2 as a regular Alertbox reader. I figured if I'm a proponent of some form of micropayment system for content sites I better put my money where my mouth is. First time using Amaon's Honor System - pretty slick.

Since beginning this weblog almost 2 months ago I've been fascinated by the ever-growing weblog phenomenon. Norlin has a post in his Uncharted Shores weblog today pointing to an article by Kevin Werbach of edventure titled Triumph of the Weblogs. Key excerpt related to weblog use by corporations - a topic I'm interested in pursuing futher: ... smart companies are increasingly realizing the value of empowering individuals within their organizations to express themselves and use the Web as a personal communications channel. Weblogs are a perfect way for organizations to humanize themselves when talking to their employees, business partners and customers..

Monday, June 18, 2001

Good piece by Norlin at MarketingProfs.com (think I'll add MarketingProfs to my list of must-read sites ... looks like some great content). Anyway, here's a good quote from Norlin's piece - Eliminating the Interchangeable: Toward a True Personalization: Personalization is focused on diagnosing why no one pays attention anymore, and on finding ways to earn that attention once again.

Ouch! I own shares of Metromedia Fiber Network in BOTH my joint account and my investment club account. I think the selling is overdone. If I had the cash I'd buy more at these levels (closed at $2.10). We'll check back again in a month or two and see if that hunch is correct.

Dana at ClickZ makes a compelling case for Google being The Most Essential Site on the Web. For me it's a close tie between Google and MyYahoo!.

Classmates.com Discovers Internet Surfers Are Willing To Pay Fees - proof positive that if the product/service is valuable enough, consumers will pay.

Good article about eBay's perspective on usability (via peterme).

Friday, June 15, 2001

Forest for the Trees #1
Every now and then I'm going to try and make an effort to take a step back from all the day-to-day happenings to analyze the bigger picture ... try and spot the longer term trends, survey the forest rather than sit under a single business, marketing or technology tree. This marks the first effort to do that.

In the past 45 days since I started posting to this log, here's a laundry list of topics that have been covered:

  • Get on the cluetrain ... markets are conversations
  • ... blogs are prime examples
  • ... through which individuals are speaking with a real voice
  • Corporations must tranform or risk extinction
  • Death of the ad supported content business model
  • Hand-in-hand with the above ... the rise of subscription-based sites
  • ... or creative ways to finance content (micropayments, Amazon honor system, etc.)
  • ... intersecting with the advent of Hailstorm and products as services
  • ... and universal profile-based access to these services from any device
  • Death of the dot-com ... effectively ending the mania that peaked about a year ago
  • Peer-to-Peer computing ... Groove as a prime example
  • Reinventing the value chain ... Competitive difference hinges less on what you do than how you do it
  • Innovative business models (eBay, Epinions, Keen.com) that truly leverage the web's ability to aggregate content and create markets

    Is there a common thread in that list? Does looking at the list as a whole provide an additional nugget of wisdom that hasn't been gained by observing these trends on a spot basis over the past month and a half?

    For what it's worth - here's my take:

    The glory days are gone. Venture capital is drying up. The stock market is sputtering. Dot-coms continue to fold and "established" companies keep trimming back their staff and capital budget. Innovation is key during times like these. ROI is important again. No longer can companies look at their web initiatives as loss-leaders. Innovative companies are figuring out how to integrate the web across their whole value chain. And they aren't halting these efforts because of difficult economic conditions. Companies who exist solely on the web are in trouble. Those that do have to figure out how to charge for their content, product or service. Free will slowly die.

    Then again, free is on the rise, on the fringes, on the edge of the network. Blogs are giving individuals a voice ... a soap box ... and they don't charge people to hear their voice, although for the best, someday that will change. If the major media don't begin speaking with a voice they'll lose their audience to candid, knowledgeable individuals that cover niche topics. My bookmarks already reflect this. The rise of blogs seems to parallel the rise of reality tv. Everyone has a bit of voyeur in them and reality tv gives us access to "real" people. Blogs let us peek inside the minds of individuals rather than faceless corporations. Corporations that succeed will be those that let individuals speak without requiring them to speak through an investor relations funnel. Corporations need to adopt or develop tools that encourage individuals to share and collaborate. They need to let individuals participate in the conversations that are happening among their employees, suppliers, partners and customers. In the end, those that do will see their businesses thrive .. they'll find they have happier customers, suppliers AND shareholders. Those that don't will slowly become extinct. Entrepreneurs have an opportunity to influence this. Invest in those that do. Hire individuals that understand this.

  • ClickZ : Is the Quest for One-to-One Marketing Doomed? I'd argue no ... but ... it's definitely much more difficult than we were all originally lead to assume.

    I was getting curious as to how many people actually visited this site so I decided to find a free solution. I did a google search and the top listing was Stats4You. Pretty cool. Within 15 minutes I had a solution in place. It's not extremely advanced but considering it's FREE, I'm pretty happy with it. Early Results: from 8am - 9am this morning I had 2 visitors!!! and one of them was me :-)

    Thursday, June 14, 2001

    Doesn't seem like there's much to talk about today. My employer just released a rather dismal earnings report. Ouch. The economic downturn is definitely being felt at our company. Continuing with the bad news, the Sixers just got hammered last night. I had optimistically hoped for the Sixers to take the Lakers to seven ... at this point that's looking very unlikely.

    Wednesday, June 13, 2001

    I've always thought that Epinions was a great idea but it wasn't until lunch today that I truly used the site. The reason? We need a new washing machine. Our current machine (came with the house when we bought it almost 4 years ago) pretty much sucks. My poor son has had to spend a good majority of his short 2 year life wearing bibs that looked like he just spit up on them. Anyway ... after first finding a list of a 3-4 washers in our price range carried by our local ABC Warehouse, I spent 15 minutes at Epinions browsing reviews in their Washing Machines category.

    Side note: hats off to Peter Merholz, former Creative Director at Epinions. The interface design work at Epinions is just awesome.

    Within minutes I located 2 of the machines on my list of prospects. Once of them had 9 reviews on the product! I won't get into detail on all the pros and cons of a Maytag PAV 2300 vs. A Whirlpool LSQ8543J but suffice it say I found the reviews extremely helpful.

    From a business model standpoint Epinions succeeds because they've capitalized on the opportunity created by the web to serve as a marketplace / content aggregator. Using your audience to provide you with your content is one of the best, most logical uses of the web (see eBay, Amazon Reviews, AskMe.com, Keen.com, Community blogs, etc.)

    Well ... now I'm off to Biz Rate to find the rock bottom price on my top washer prospects. I hear those salespeople at ABC Warehouse will refuse to be beat on price. We'll soon see.

    Just discovered goodexperience.com via Sean Carton's latest ClickZ Leading Edge piece on experience design.

    Thanks for the mention Olivier! I was telling Olivier that I appreciated reading another blog that delved into the business/marketing issues (in addition to the technology). Blogspot - you better add another server to handle the additional traffic... the Web Voice effect has begun.

    #2 on Speedle's Top Links Ever - If Men raised the kids.

    Speedle - yet another interesting company uncovered in a Red Herring Catch of the Day. Speedle is intriguing in several ways. First, it's the first product built around Microsoft's Passport technology. Second of all, it sort of leverages the current craze surrounding blogs by letting users forward links, thoughts, comments, etc. to a select audience (stored in an address book leveraging Passport). The big contrast with blogs: blogs are server based, sitting in one location for reading by anyone that comes to view it. Speedles, on the other hand, lie on the "fringe." I almost view it as a P2P blog because speedles are sent OUT to users - either as individual links or as "collections.". This is definitely a company/product worth following.

    Had a Stewart's Grape Soda last night (I'm a big fan of almost ANY grape flavored beverage). I'd say it's better than Welches or MinuteMaid ... maybe even as good as Grape Crush.

    Tuesday, June 12, 2001


    Interesting site. With Spyonit you tell a spy what to watch for on the Internet, and when something changes, it reports back to you wherever you are: by email, instant message, mobile phone or PDA. Similar to "alerts" or "notifications" that I've seen offered on other sites. The "anyhow - anywhere" concept is crucial to gaining adoption. Just acquired by 724 Solutions. Probably a good thing too since it's unclear how they planned on making money. (link discovered at Web Voice)

    Added this to my list of bookmarks: StartupJournal | The Wall Street Journal Center for Entrepreneurs (mentioned in Larry' Chase's Web Digest for Marketers - subscribe at http://wdfm.com)

    The Red Eye: Keen on profits. Interesting idea (advice giving by web or phone) ... and business model. Reminds me of AskMe.com with one important difference - Keen charges on a pay-for-use basis, AskMe is free (supported by advertising). If I was an investor ... I'd place my money on the company that's actually charging money. What I like about Keen is that they use both the web AND the phone. The days of "web only" are gone. Now companies must better align with the wishes of their customers and in the case of personal advice, there are many occasions when talking with a live person is much more appropriate than exchanging emails. I'm going to add Keen to my steadily growing list of companies to watch.

    Fool.com: What Will Become of Yahoo - if any company is going to figure out a way to monetized its audience (beyond banner ads) it will be Yahoo! I know I'd personally be willing to pay a small monthly fee ($2 - $3) to access Yahoo Finance!.

    Monday, June 11, 2001

    Looks like Business2.0, my favorite publication, is being bought and merged with eCompany Now. Doesn't surprise me that we're seeing some darwinism take place in this space. I picked up eCompany now several times at the newsstand but never found anything distinguishing enough inside to make me become a regular reader. Combining Business 2.0's and eCompany's circulation makes a lot of sense. The new, 550,000 circ, combined entity should be strong enough to weather the economic storm.

    Ugh! Come on Sixers. I do not want to see Shaq and Kobe win 2 straight titles.

    E-Commerce News: What Are Failed Dot-Coms Worth Now? Reminds me of a call I received a couple weeks after iBelieve.com folded up. I was offered a good chunk of options (in some probably-now worthless dot-com company) if I could get my hands on (and deliver to my source) iBelieve.com's 550,000 registered member database. Other than our domain name our member database was really the only item of value left after spending $30 million in less than 18 months. Sad ... but ... a sign of the times

    A daily Chronicle of The End of Free. Pretty relevant based on the contents of my two earlier posts today. (via EVHEAD)

    From Salon:More lights go out on the Web. Good quote: . The Internet downturn has already left many investors impoverished; now the downturn is starting to hit the rest of us where it hurts -- in our daily bookmarks. I wasn't a regular reader of Suck and Feed, however, I have regularly browsed Plastic which sounds like it's next in line to close as it currently only has a volunteer keeping the site up.

    Another blow for those hoping to survive publishing content online:Suck.com Shuts Down. If online ad revenue is your single revenue stream you are doomed. I'd be curious to know how the source of this article (The Industry Standard) is doing from a financial perspective. What % of their revenue comes from online ad revenue, what % from print ad revenue and what % from print subscriptions. I also see they host conferences (Internet Summit 2001 commands a $4400 "full" registration price). It's only through diversifying one's revenue streams in this manner that a "content" company can make things work.

    Friday, June 08, 2001

    Seems that Microsoft's "Smart Tags" (see earlier post today) have got a few people PO'd. Both Norlin and Winer are outraged. My take - I don't have a problem with it because of the fact that "the Smart Tag feature ... will be turned off by default in the final release." This is big. Yes, Microsoft is leveraging their browser dominance to drive business to other Microsoft properties ... but ... and this is important ... the user is in control over whether or not they let Microsoft manipulate them. And ... as we all know ... a large majority of people NEVER switch their default browser settings. To put it another way - if you don't like the TV show, flip the channel or turn it off.

    Found some time today to catch up on my Red Herring VC P.S. newsletter archives. If you're interested in starting a technology company some day, these are great reads. They consist of two parts: 1) an interview with a well-respected venture capitalist - discussing the ins and outs of strategy, business plans, investment vision, successes, failures, etc. ... and 2) a transcript of Q&A between the VC and reader emails gathered in the 2 week time from from part one's release.

    WSJ (from Camworld): New Windows XP Feature Can Re-Edit Others' Sites. The article title is a bit misleading ... in essence Microsoft will tag words in an article as links that send the user to a Microsoft property. The links, however, are at least different in appearance from the typical page link so the user can discern whether a link was embedded by the editor or Microsoft. More importantly the user can turn the feature off if they so desire. This feature reminds me of the Thirdvoice plug-in that made such a splash a year or two back. The big difference - Thirdvoice required users to download a plug-in. Microsoft can embed the feature in the world's most popular web browser. Thirdvoice links went to discussions on various topics ... a difficult activity to earn revenue from. Microsoft links can serve as a cheap customer acquisition tool by sending new customers to sites where the dollar flows back into Microsoft's pocket. It's easy to despise Microsoft and this latest tactic to rule the world... but personally, I don think you can blame them for trying.

    Thursday, June 07, 2001

    I have to agree with TMF Jeff's analysis regarding Amazon's impending foray into selling PCs. I'm sick of the media slamming Amazon.com. The beauty of their plan to sell PCs is that they're leveraging their audience ... their millions of eyeballs ... they're NOT warehousing PCs. On one hand the media lambasts Amazon for all the distribution warehouses they set up ... on the next they slam them for selling a product in which the manufacturer will bear the burden of inventory, shipping and maintenance. Perhaps I could be accused of being too bullish about Amazon ... I'll admit that. I just wish the media could be consistent in their analysis.

    Wednesday, June 06, 2001

    Verdicts like this drive me nuts! Don't get me wrong - I'm not a smoker and think its a filthy, unhealthy habit ... BUT ... come on! We all know smoking can kills us. This victim mentality seems to permeate our society. This guy smokes 2 packs a day for 40 years and a jury sees it fit to award him $3 billion!!! Absolutely unbelievable. Buyer beware. Ok ... I'll shut up ... I just saw this article and had to vent.

    Great post/newsletter by Eric Norlin of TDCRC - The Extinction Event. There were several extracts that I think are worth highlighting:

    ... all businesses tend toward extinction. Only a few shall survive.

    ... This realization becomes shocking in the context of Wall Street's long term investing mantra.

    ... Complexity theory reveals this simple truth: the mortality curve applies to *your* company. Extinction is a near-certainty. There is a fundamental truth underlying the fact that General Electric is the only remaining member of the original Dow Jones Index.

    ... The fundamental truth remains: if you wish to survive the event horizon that is extinction, you will most certainly alter the primary nature of your existence.

    Implications? Perhaps I need to revisit the Motley Fool's long term investing strategy. I can't rest assured that my retirement is safe just by buying a Cisco, Nokia or Microsoft today and sitting back to relax ... resting assured that I bought companies that will be here for the long haul. Extinction theory would suggest that when I retire 30 years from now its quite possible that all three of those companies will be GONE ... unless they find a way to TOTALLY reinvent themselves.

    Looking at it from my employer's perspective ... yesterday Steelcase was a furniture company. Tomorrow we're positioning ourselves to be an architecture, furniture and technology company. What will we be 10, 20 or 30 years from now? How do we get there? Will we have the guts to shoot ourselves in the foot today so that we can survive tomorrow?

    ... Lasting is unlikely. Adaptation means a near total redefinition of core. Companies that face the truths of their existence will plan for their own extinction.

    Tuesday, June 05, 2001

    You know, I remember hearing about Amazon's Honor System a while back but I never checked it out. I found it today coming from Metafilter's site. As they move their servers from one host to another their site is down. In the meantime they left a splash page with a link that would allow people to give donations to the Metafilter fund. I'm really curious how well the honor system payment process is working for content sites (This relates to my post on May 24 related to the revenue model for content sites). What percent of a sites unique visitors are making occasional payments? I'd be surprised if anyone received payments from more than 0.1% of their average monthly unique visitor total. I *do* like the concept though and think it's great that Amazon offers the service. Maybe I should start a POELog fund ... publishing this site is putting a healthy dent in my piggy bank ;-)

    One of the better explanations of how the tax cut will benefit me - as only those at The Fool know how to deliver.

    Who let the blogs out?

    Monday, June 04, 2001

    Combine America's current love of reality TV with its past obsession with trading cards and you get PeopleCards. As Raef reports in a Catch of the Day ... I could see this fad take off.

    I don't know why, but I find these type of stories fascinating. Fortune.com: 15 Minutes of Obscene Wealth: My high school buddy Greg was an Internet CEO billionaire. Then he wasn't. (from XPLANE's bBlog).

    Spent Saturday night with some buddies at Sharp Park Campground for a bachelor's party getaway (college roommate getting married in a month). I'd like to thank Mike for taking the chill out of the air on an uncharacteristically cold June night.

    Friday, June 01, 2001

    Gotta like what Eric and Chris are doing over at the Titanic Deck Chair Rearrangement Corporation. In subscribing to their newsletter I can quickly see that they practive what they preach. Eric's last note has a few great nuggets about marketing. The highlights, or cliff notes, as he's phrased them:
    1) Speak with a voice.
    2) Be brutally honest.
    3) Have *something* to say.
    4) Act with a little enthusiasm.
    So few marketing execs truly understand what he means here.

    Sorry - been in all day meetings with eProcurement consultants over the past couple days so I'm behind on my web reading and posting.

    Interesting piece by Clay Shirky (posted on Camworld): OpenP2P.com: Hailstorm: Open Web Services Controlled by Microsoft