Monthly Archives: December 2014

Instagram is now used by more people than Twitter. Let’s talk about why. This post is a continuation from yesterday’s, which explored the evolution of how Twitter is used.

Twitter is great for getting news and opinions about the things you’re interested in. For example, Marc Andreesen is a fantastic person to follow if you’re interested in technology and business. Finding those people, however, is hard.

Instagram’s appeal is more immediate and more universal. It’s easier to create and find good content on Instagram, better for conversations and great to use with friends.

Getting “into” Twitter is difficult. I love my friends, but I don’t care about what they do on a real-time basis. I also love Duke basketball, but few Duke basketball players are actually interesting enough to listen to on Twitter. Finding great content on Twitter is hard.

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When people think about ranking social networks, it’s usually Facebook #1 and Twitter #2. Well, there’s a new #2 in town and that’s Instagram, who with 300 million monthly active users recently supplanted Twitter’s 284 million users.

Twitter was a compelling solution to a problem few understood. I’m not a big Twitter user by any means, but I’ve kept close tabs on it ever since its debut on SXSW, and my own understanding of Twitter has evolved a lot over the years.

Like most, I didn’t get Twitter the first time. It felt like a feature Facebook already had in status updates. Moreover, did I really want to know that people were doing on a real-time basis? Having lunch or going to the gym or feeling sad?

I soon realized it was a precise way of getting updates of only the people you’re interested in, which was/is different to Facebook’s algorithmic approach of getting updates from all your friends — who you may not actually be interested in following on a real-time basis. That was my first take on Twitter’s purpose.

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Probably because it has a 50% fatality rate. This is from a list of the most popular global topics on Facebook, which the company just published yesterday in its Year in Review.

What’s the #1 topic? Thankfully, it wasn’t something as vapid as Kardashian. The top topic on Facebook is the World Cup.

Here’s the full list:

  1. World Cup
  2. Ebola virus outbreak
  3. Elections in Brazil
  4. Robin Williams
  5. Ice Bucket Challenge
  6. Conflict in Gaza
  7. Malaysia Airlines
  8. Super Bowl
  9. Michael Brown/Ferguson
  10. Sochi Winter Olympics

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Yesterday, I wrote how ads are a valid revenue model for online businesses, and not necessarily anti-consumer. Today, I write how display ads don’t even really work.

Intuitively, you know that to be true. How often have you actually looked, processed and clicked on an ad, much less act on it? Take those probabilities and divide them in half, because according to Google, only 44% of all display impressions were even seen by actual human beings.

The definition of seen is quite generous: at least half the ad’s pixels have to be viewable and for at least one second to be counted. So Google is counting even the ads that appear on the side that you completely ignore as you read the web page’s main body of content.

Under this definition of seen, ads that appear just “above the fold” (i.e. are viewable as soon as you arrive) and ads that are vertically long are seen more often.

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When you are drinking at a bar or eating in a restaurant, what’s great service? What makes you loyal to a particular place? Is it not when they know who you are, what you like, and can therefore provide a level of service and intimacy that other places can’t match?

Why then is online, targeted advertising so different? Why do people get up-in-arms about companies getting to know you better, so they can show you ads you might actually like more?

That is probably what Mark Zuckerberg is thinking when he reacted to a comment Tim Cook once made:

When an online service is free, you’re not the customer. You’re the product.

And then Mark Zuckerberg in a recent Time Magazine article:

“A frustration I have,” Zuckerberg says, before a PR handler can change the subject, “is that a lot of people increasingly seem to equate an advertising business model with somehow being out of alignment with your customers. I think it’s the most ridiculous concept. What, you think because you’re paying Apple that you’re somehow in alignment with them? If you were in alignment with them, then they’d make their products a lot cheaper!”

I have to side with Zuckerberg here.

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One way to make e-commerce work is to sell high margin products online — ideally, products that are necessarily high margin in the brick and mortar world to account for distribution costs. Therefore, going online cuts out the middlemen and you can profit even while selling for less. Proven examples include eyeglasses, cosmetics, baby products, and so on.

Re/code has a fascinating story on another example: Harry’s, for razor blades. What makes Harry’s so interesting is that the company raised $197 million on a $350 million valuation on basically zero revenue (they have sales, but at a level insignificant relative to the size of investment).

In short, investors are investing solely on the basis of potential.

Re/code is painting this as yet another example of technology’s growing bubble. But let’s dive deeper — far from a being sign of investor irrationality, this transaction might actually make rational sense.

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The $200 HP Stream 11 is an intriguing laptop — it comes with full Windows, has 32 GB of eMMC memory and houses an attractive design (though that’s subjective) — all for $200. You also get Office 365 and 1 TB of OneDrive storage for one year; and just for kicks, HP is throwing in a $25 Windows Store coupon.

That’s incredible value. If you are in the market for Office 365 and want to spend money on the app store, this laptop effectively costs $105.

Tempting!

Reviews around the web are positive. Performance is fine for low computing tasks and the laptop can even manage bigger Windows programs, albeit slowly. It boots from sleep quickly. You don’t want to overload it with too many tabs on your browser however. The keyboard is great while the touch pad is finicky. The display isn’t the greatest but average for the price. Battery life is excellent. You’ll want to buy the Signature Edition direct from Microsoft; otherwise the laptop is weighed down by bloatware.

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One of the best things about the Surface Pro 3 is its pen. It’s changed the way I take notes, brainstorm and review PDFs. As useful as the pen is, however, I can’t help but think its implementation in Windows is a half-measure.

Currently, the pen’s behavior is different depending on where you use it. In the operating system parts of Windows and in programs like Word, the pen is a mouse replacement. Then in certain apps like OneNote, it acts like a pen that you can draw with. You can mark up PDF files, but not JPG or DOC files.

This specificity is fine for knowledgeable users, but for casual users it’s confusing to remember what the pen can be used for where. If there’s no clear sense how a tool will be used, chances are it won’t be.

For the pen to ever have mainstream adoption, it should be used consistently no matter where you are, like the mouse or keyboard. Ideally, you should be able to write, draw and mark-up with the pen everywhere. The pen doesn’t ever need to be a mouse replacement.

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I’ve long maintained that the real competition for Chromebooks aren’t Windows PCs, they’re tablets. Here’s what I wrote:

[The Chromebook] is a device people with low computing needs might deem good enough. It’s capable for mail, web browsing and light office work; and for most people, that’s all they ever need…You know what else is excellent for low computing needs? Tablets, which have already been eating into the PC market for years for precisely that reason. If Chromebooks didn’t exist today, I suspect more tablets would have been sold in its place instead of Ultrabooks.

Chromebooks so far have found most success in the education market, where the device has gone head to head with — you guessed it — the iPad. I also wrote how ridiculous it is for schools to choose iPads over Chromebooks:

Education for children of that age is also relatively basic — it’s about teaching them where and how to research information (browser), how to type (keyboard) and how to write reports (Google docs) — and for that Chromebooks are perfectly adequate. You don’t need anything more advanced (Office) until later, where a similarly priced Windows machine might make more sense.

What doesn’t make any sense are iPads. iPads are consumption devices — what would you need to teach about consumption to kids? Here’s a videogame you should play? Here’s how you watch videos? Here’s how you use Facebook?

Why would you teach a child how to type with an onscreen keyboard instead of a real one?

Add to it the fact that iPads cost nearly twice as Chromebooks, and it just boggles the mind that iPads are doing well in schools at all.

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I was a guest on the Tech-Know show on Channel News Asia earlier today and asked to comment about privacy in social networks, and specifically, about an app called Peep. Peep is like a structured group chat, and kinda like Path.

The big point I made on the show is that while private social networks like Peep are a huge trend, it’s one that’s been happening for a while. For most of us, chat apps are our private social networks, and why Facebook acquired Whatsapp for $19 billion.

So for apps like Peep to add value, they have to demonstrate what they can do better above and beyond chat apps.

It’s a tough hurdle, and I’m not sure Peep clears it.

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