Wednesday, August 31, 2005 - Do No Evil(er)

Not to amp a completely groundless rumor... BUT here's some interesting thoughts on Microsoft's beta (baseless_rumor_link). What if Microsoft provided a completely ad-free search platform with billions of indexed pages, with open and accessible APIs for developers to integrate search capabilities to any application, and integrate this ad-free search platform throughout the Vista OS for users to search with from their desktop/mobile application? Hmm. Wouldn't be a bad idea Mr Gates. If Do No Evil really means "give away free products to eliminate competition and gain massive user adoption, while making money on near monopoly control of a single medium based on user mindshare", Microsoft/ could actually end up Doing No Evil(er) on Google...

Don't be evil, unless it's necessary for the greater good

Pretty damn funny. Gotta love The Onion...

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Alexa - Hot or Not?

Not exactly sure why Amazon acquired Alexa, but damn it's a great (if aging) tool. For the one person that doesn't already know, Alexa measures traffic rank based on estimated reach and page views extrapolated from its large community of toolbar users. For the marketers out there, it's great for taking a peek under the hood of competitors and an honest gauge of your own site's performance. Take a look at eBay's performance (Alexa traffic rank = 8) vs some competitive sites (Auctions & Retail Traffic Ranks) or how the Chinese eCommerce sites are stacking up (Chinese Sites Traffic Ranks). Kudos to my friends Ed and Polly Han on their wedding gifts site (43,375 - damn good for a niche eCommerce site). Meanwhile, seems like more people like to snoop on their old flings at Zabasearch (2,833) than look for jobs at SimplyHired (10,822). Meanwhile HotorNot (431) trumps both.

That being said, Alexa doesn't seem to have developed much as a site or service over the past few years. Out there somewhere (probably at the bottom of some manager's desk), a fairly powerful business model sits within the Alexa site/toolbar. Relating site popularity on the basis of links and Google secret sauce (which currently powers Alexa's own web search) obviously has trumped other search algorithms. I would personally use Alexa exclusively for search if it would invoke its proprietary traffic ratings and site details on top of whatever algorithm Google (3) /Yahoo (1) has cooked up. Makes you wonder if Amazon (13) would enable this if A9 (1,458 :( )ever caught on... (blockview does rock for looking at properties)

Curious that the only site Alexa doesn't measure or comment on is Alexa (no data), so there's no guage if the service is hugely popular or dying on the vine. If I'm willing to fess up to the traffic of the company I started (and sold) (3,423,037 - the site's for auto dealers not the general public ;)), Alexa should be as bold...

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Battle of the Network Stars v2

Not that anyone doubted this was coming, but here's more fuel to the telecommunication battle royale to ensue... VoIP client for your cell phone, Intel, Cisco team to boost business WLANs and (surprise!) Gtalk is in the works as well.

Had a great conversation on this topic with a friend from a wireless software provider this weekend. He argued that Google/Yahoo/MSN would not want to enter the service provider space given the immense cost to support millions of voice customers and complexity in offering five 9s service. While I would initially agree, ultimately the difference between IM and VOIP is marginal in terms of data or customer management (neither ICQ nor Skype needed thousands of customer reps to manage millions of accounts). As long as the customer understands the potential service issues when using VOIP (and the product is cost-effective or free), users will be forgiving depending on how that network is ultimately monetized (I look forward to ads during breaks in service... phone musack ;)). So while I agree with my friends' view when comparing VOIP to landline POTS (plain old telephony service) , other communication mediums don't have that moat just yet.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Battle of the Network Stars 2005

I used to really dig that show... B-movie actors battling it out with the gang from WKRP, with Howard Cosell calling the play by play. Now that was ol school reality TV (and no million dollars to anyone). Back then it was all fun and games - maybe Heather Locklear would get dunked in the pool or William Shatner would take a vicious hit in flag football (even at 7 I thought that was poetic justice). Today's version of Battle of the network stars is a lot more serious - more like Survivor than Hollywood Squares. This time its all A-list actors - the major wireless carriers, cable operators, pure-play internet companies, hardware manufacturers, media companies, hell even the stalwart utility companies are in the game, only this time there's no re-run.

With the division between voice and data networks completely obliterated, control over the data/voice network is the endgame for not only companies, but potentially entire industries. (The rumored acquisition of Skype for $3B by News Corp is proof that someone out there sees the endgame coming fast.) Should Google/Yahoo succeed integrating VOIP with IM, build their own national or global data/voice fiber networks, and build out wifi access nationwide, consider what that would mean to wireless (and land) phone carriers, or even cable providers down the road. (Especially if Google/Yahoo offer it for free much like everything else they do in exchange for ad revenue). Another angle: What if hardware manufacturers built access points to the Internet (PDAs and other perpetually connected devices) and used open source p2p networks and VOIP, with revenue based on low monthly service charges? Obviously the wireless carriers have seen the incoming storm and are responding aggressively, launching their 3G networks, even partnering with Google/Yahoo (I assume to tie their user bases to their own networks). What makes this fascinating is that so many companies are engaged in this pitched battle (some potentially without even knowing it). I expect as this all unfolds, some major acquisitions will occur, given the size of these companies, that will make the $3B rumored Skype acquisition literally immaterial.

So Heather Locklear not withstanding, Battle of the Network Stars 2005-2010 promises to be a whole lot more interesting than the 70's version, and a lot more rewarding/painful to the actors.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Gotta love being a dad :)

In the complete absence of anything of interest to say (and to avoid more sass from anonymous comment posters), here's a few pics of my kids from a wedding in Tahoe we were just at.

Bella, 3, as the wedding flower girl and Damon, 3 months, wondering wth I'm doing

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

There's an 'Ad' in Android...

Google buys Android. Sounds like a Google engineer's dream no?

Scuttlebutt says that Android was working on wireless GPS tracking and software provisioning based on user location. Hmm. So now Google can track you down wherever you go and serve up some appropriate adds (better yet if they're Voice-enabled SMS!). This would be the ultimate ad service as you troll around town, with your cellphone barking out ads in real time... (walk by a Quiznos and you're phone would buzz "Mmm Toasty meatball subs - turn left!")

A better bet is that Google would capture geolocation info on you wherever you went and then present this as a venue to advertisers... Imagine the possibilities - your local Burger King would know that you drive by every day, and pay Google handsomely to sell you a BK ad. So when you log onto MyGoogle or Gbrowser or Gmail or Gnews or Gpay or GTV or Gmaps or Gtunes or Gexcel or Gword or Gwifi (you get the drift), all completely free of course, the ad from your local BK would be up front and center. So no surprise, there's an 'Ad' in Andriod (there's also an 'Anoid' as well...)

Monday, August 15, 2005

Alibaba... a name you can trust ;)

Forbes (which widely reported Yahoo!'s Alibaba investment as a great move) just published an article on Alibaba's problem with fakes. Alibaba's Thieves Threaten Yahoo! This a problem faced by online marketplaces generally, but Alibaba's B2B focus is a vast multiplier on this issue (consumer buys 1 fake handbag, business buys 100 pallets of 100 fake handbags and then sells them to 1000 consumers).

According to the article "A spokeswoman for the House subcommittee on commerce, trade and consumer protection, which heard testimony in June that berated Alibaba for trafficking counterfeit goods, said the company and its partnership with Yahoo! was on the committee's 'radar screen.'...

"Alibaba has emerged as a chief target of advocacy groups, which say the company has been less willing than its competitors to weed out phony products from its sites. 'Counterfeiters from all over the world converge on the site,' concluded a February report by the anticounterfeiting coalition. Timothy Trainer, former president of the coalition, said Alibaba had been singled out in the report because of the sheer volume of knock-offs traded on the site. "

For those who are wondering, eBay has a Verified Rights Owner (VeRO) program in place that pulls listings at request of rights owners and a huge team of folks patrolling the site for prohibited products (helps to have one of the biggest community of users on the Internet).

No doubt Yahoo! will work with Alibaba to reduce the severity of this issue. Let's hope that Alibaba's sales volume wasn't based on thousands of pallets of $100 Roll-X watches and $10 Hermays ties...

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Here's $1B, my house, job and car keys...

While many have raved about Yahoo's 'investment' in Alibaba, I have a few questions. How often do you see a $3 billion market capitalization for a company that's generating $70MM in revenues? Let's say Alibaba/Taobao reach effervescent, ridiculous 30% net margins (which safe to say isn't the case currently). That would still be a 140 P/E multiple... How about paying $1B for 40% of a company, but then handing over control of your brand, multiple operations and ongoing strategy to the company you just paid $1B to? Obviously entire teams of business and M&A folk far smarter than I made the decision. Better hope you do know Jack ;)

Jack Ma - CEO, Alibaba/Taobao and Yahoo! China?

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Parasites 3 Whales 0

Two years ago I set up a funding panel at the eBay Developer Conference with folks from the Angel's Forum and Brand X Ventures (name withheld to protect the innocent). At some point at the end of the panel, a brave soul asked the guy from Brand X if he would ever consider investing in a 3rd party developer integrating to the eBay platform. His response was "I'd rather invest on a whale, than the parasites on the whale" or something to that effect. Surprisingly there weren't many follow-up questions...

So with that outstanding vote of confidence, I want to introduce you to a few up and coming developers that I think could have a significant impact to eBay and online commerce as a whole. What's important to realize is that sometimes a parasite can get quite big, especially when its not one or two, but an entire ocean of whales it's targeting - resulting in quite a whale of a parasite (i'll shut up with the Orca references now).

First up is a company called Virtual Iris. I've been working with Adam Rubin from VI for the past two or three quarters. The technology takes enhanced picture services to the next level (maybe two levels) by combining extreme zoom, with picture carveouts and embedded measurement. Check it out on I liken the experience of using their zoom application as actually looking at something at a store. The VI application turns the visual experience into a tangible one -- not something that I've seen on any website to date.

Second company to check out is the newly launched MPire ( Mpire is a hosted mini-ERP/CRM application targeting the eBay seller community to start off. Think Netsuite (another company that I have huge props for) for the hundreds of thousands of mom and pop sellers on eBay. I would venture that eBay sellers have a lot in common with the millions of small businesses out there trying to make a buck - using excel to manage inventory, Quicken to close the books and wasting inordinate amount of time doing so. Mpire takes care of all of it with one console and has about as sexy an interface as I've seen for a price point set for the SME market.

Finally, look out for Hosted Support ( Real interesting take on a hosted CRM application, with a specific focus on solving a nagging issue on eBay - massive quantity of emails taking up time better spent on other things (things like sales, marketing, managing, etc). Hosted Support combines some very cool algorithmic, natural language querying of incoming emails, with automated email response based on seller FAQs. They've seen online sellers using their tool reduce email response time up to 80%, which means hella more time to build the business than respond to the 100th email asking if you ship to Nigeria (because the former aide to General Abacha apparently has a ton of money to spend from all those emails I get from him - hope that $10K I sent works out). Again, while this could be great for eBay sellers, its just as good for numerous online channels beyond the Bay.

Many of the other great ideas/developers I've worked with this past year I can't mention yet ( ;)) since they're still in 'silent' mode or don't have a direct tie in to eBay/Paypal ( yet... but I promise there's a lot of stuff about to explode on the scene like Shamu over the next couple of quarters from the eBay developer community. Stay tuned.
Listed on BlogShares