Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

Here it is. The Killer Feature from Google.

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

Today Google announced that Video and Voice “chat” is coming to Google Talk on Android. I just got an Acer Iconia Android tablet yesterday, and it already supports this.

Understand what this means – you’ll be able to call and video chat with other Android phones, tables, and anything that can run GMail & GTalk in the browser. No need for a phone carrier. All that you need is network connectivity, which could come in the form of ubiquitous wifi.

Sure other apps are doing something similar. There’s Skype, Qik, Fring, etc., but I already use Google for my phone. Because of that I already have GTalk – built-in. All my contacts are already there. I think only Google can make this ubiquitous. Google Talk is based on an open protocol, so anyone can implement an app that integrates with this service. You also have Google backing the connectivity.

Also remember that not too long ago, Google tied Google Voice to GTalk so you can make phone calls from your PC. Free calls at that. It’s all coming together now.

Sales Resistance: Free and Paid Apps

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

Any time you put an additional step in the sales process, you gain an opportunity to lose a customer. Such is the case with Free and Paid apps. It’s a common freemium pattern in the Google Android Market and Apple App Store.

You’re familiar with the pattern – there’s a Free version of the app that’s restricted and then there’s a Paid version that has all of the features. As a developer, the problem is that you have to maintain two versions of the same app. You have two app store listings. You have to track two sets of stats. It’s difficult if not impossible to track Free to Paid conversions. You can’t tell if your marketing tool (the Free version) is working.

As a customer, you may like the Free version, but find it confusing how to upgrade to the Paid version. Here’s  the typical scenario for the Android Market:

  1. George downloads the Free version of your app.
  2. George uses it for a while and likes it.
  3. You’ve put a “Buy Full/Paid” button somewhere in your app. George clicks it.
  4. George is taken to the Market app and is presented with the single-line app listing. This shows the price and rating. He doesn’t care – he knows what he wants already. He’s made his own rating in his mind. This is the first chance for George to leave the sales process.
  5. George clicks on the app. He sees the description of the app, screenshots, etc. He doesn’t care – he already knows what the app is all about. Second chance for George to leave.
  6. George clicks the “Buy” button.
  7. A list of security permissions is presented. George doesn’t care – he already agreed to them with the Free version. Chance 3 to leave.
  8. George accepts the permissions by clicking “Ok”.
  9. George is taken to Google Checkout. If George doesn’t have a credit card setup already, he must do so now. It’s a fairly cumbursome process. Chance 4 and 5 for George to leave.
  10. George clicks “Buy Now”.
  11. The download starts. George is returned to the app description with a button that says “Cancel Download”. Why? He just purchased it. Chance 6 for George to cancel.
  12. After the download is done, the buttons change to “Open” and “Uninstall”.  Uninstalling at this point grants an automatic refund. Chance 7 for George to leave.
  13. If George clicks “Open”, he’s taken to the Paid version. Good. That’s what we wanted.
  14. But wait…there’s more! George now has to hunt down the Free version of your app and uninstall it. He doesn’t need it anymore. Some users get confused at this point and end up uninstalling/refunding the Paid version on accident.

Whew! George should get a medal or something! This could be much simpler. You create one version of your app. It starts out in restricted/Free mode, but it’s unlockable. Then the scenario could be:

  1. George makes one free download.
  2. George likes it. He clicks “Buy Full”.
  3. George is allowed to pay via carrier billing (simplest) or checkout with any online payment provider he might have.
  4. Android Market allows your app to detect whether it has been unlocked, possibly via an enhancement to the licensing service.
  5. George is returned back to the same app which is now fully featured.

This could also happen incrementally, allowing George to unlock multiple features as he wants them. How ’bout it Google? In-app payments? Simplified payment process? Support for payment methods you already have?

Food and IP

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

Here are some movies I think are worth watching about our food supply Strangely, these movies also twist together some of the intellectual property and patent issues I’ve been thinking about recently. Did you know if you grow Monsanto’s patented soybeans, you can’t keep any of the seed you produce? They actually police this. Also, if you’re a non-Monsanto soybean grower next to a Monsanto grower and Monsanto’s plants naturally cross with yours, Monsanto can come and take your crop because of patent infringement?

Food, Inc. (IMDb)
King Corn (IMDb)

Both are available via Netflix streaming, if you have it. I suggest watching King Corn first.

Follow-up on Light Side of the Moon

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

There’s been a flurry of IP talk since my last blog post (http://dansyrstad.com/2010/02/28/the-light-side-of-the-moon/). Here are some posts that I found interesting:

Jonathan Schwartz – Good Artists Copy, Great Artists Steal

Edison’s Patent Enforcement

This Apple-HTC Patent Thing

And a little earlier, Tim Bray – Giving Up on Patents

The Light Side of the Moon

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

I’ve always been greatly inspired by the U.S. mission to the moon. The moon mission drove my passion for electronics, computers, and science; as it did for many others. I’ve read quite a bit on the moon mission and watched quite a few documentaries on it. I recently watched a couple of episodes of “Moon Machines.” This series caused me to connect some thoughts I’ve had lately – none of which have anything to do with actually being on the moon.

It’s Not About the Moon

It always starts with a seemingly crazy idea. What is the farthest goal in space we could imagine? Putting a man on the moon.

Maybe there wasn’t much to see or do on the moon, but it was all about getting there. I firmly believe that this single achievement gave us the broadest advancement a society has ever had in a 10 year time span. Maybe the broadest advancement – period. Remember when someone said something couldn ‘t be done? The response was always “if we can put a man on the moon, we can certainly do…”. It gave us a sense that anything is possible.

Perhaps the moon mission started as a political and nation-building goal. Of course there was the space race with the USSR. Coupled with our national desire to be number one and prevail in the race propelled us towards this goal. The end result, however, was much more wide-reaching. Yes, we “won” the space race, but I think it was realized as success for mankind, not just the U.S. So much of our technology today, what you’re able to do right now, can be traced back to the moon mission. We, as a global society, have benefited immensely from the moon mission.

There were legions of people that caused the moon landing go from a fanciful idea to a feasible one. These were just regular people assembled for one fantastic goal. Many people wanted to be involved with this mission. People want to be involved with something great. Truly, the landing happened (successfully) because the collective ideas of many. Those ideas were built upon the ideas of others. No one entity can own this achievement. Not one company. Not one nation. It was an achievement of the entire world.

Don’t believe me? Who was one of the driving forces behind the Apollo program? Wernher von Braun. That’s right – the guy who developed the V-2 rocket for the Germans. The rocket that was launched more than 3,000 times during WWII – mostly against London. The V-2 didn ‘t inspire technological and social achievement. However, we might not have gotten to the moon if it wasn’t for von Braun. But it wasn’t just him. Robert Goddard, the U.S.-born “father” of modern rocketry, influenced von Braun. Goddard’s work is based on Russian-born Konstantin Tsiolkovsky’s work. Goddard influenced Hermann Oberth, a Hungarian-born scientist, who later worked with von Braun in the U.S.

The idea of a Lunar Orbit Rendezvous was originated by Yuri Kondratyuk (Russian) around 1916. John Houbolt at NASA thought this was the only way to land on the moon and return. But von Braun was strongly against this idea. However, thanks Houbolt’s conviction, he changed von Braun’s mind. Prior ideas, rethinking ideas, and arguing ideas are all elements of invention.

Connection is The Invention

All of the ideas and science which allowed us to get to the moon were derived and combined from others. These people and ideas came from all around the world; so it is truly a global accomplishment. All inventions are the combination – intentional or unintentional – of other ideas. No one can say that they truly “own” a new idea. To quote T. S. Eliot “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.” This has been said in other forms. “Lesser artists borrow. Great artists steal.” has been attributed to Igor Stravinsky and Pablo Picasso.  Newton said “If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”

Where am I going with all of this? We can do great things by innovating on the ideas of others. That’s how it’s always worked. Imagine for a minute if the mathematics, philosophy, and logic of the Greeks was patented. It could have suppressed many follow-on innovations for many years to come. You know what? That’s what’s happening right now.

My own writing here is a connection of ideas to form yet another idea. What if all of these other ideas were controlled? I would not be able to say what I’m saying now. It would be a suppression of free speech.

Unfortunately, this is where things are headed. The way it’s going we’ll never have another “moon landing” because someone will have to own it. NBC would work out a deal with NASA for exclusive TV rights. Then we’ll only see what NBC thinks we should. Exclusive deals and proprietary intellectual property rights would drive up the cost of everything. We’d never even get to the moon.

Patent Lunacy

The current lifetime of a patent is 20 years. From 1861 to 1995, it was 17 years. From 1836 to 1861, it was 14 years with an optional 7 year extension. Prior to 1836, it was 14 years. Did ideas become more valuable recently? Twenty years is eons in the world of technology. More than a lifetime. It pretty much grants the patent holder exclusive extortion rights for the useful life of the invention. More recently, the mis-named “American Inventors Protection Act” of 1999 was seen by some to favor corporations over individual inventors. In 2002, this act was further amended (see http://www.uspto.gov/patents/law/aipa/index.jsp and http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fsb/fsb_archive/2000/04/01/277559/index.htm). In 2005, 2007, and 2009, attempts have been made to pass a “Patent Reform Act”. Patents are becoming more and more the domain of large corporations. They are expensive to file and even more expensive to defend.

What happened? Mega corporations happened. Mega money happened. A company cannot create an idea. After all, a company is only made of the people which comprise it. A patent is actually granted to an individual, but almost always assigned (conveyed as property) to a company. Who profits the most from a patent? The company, not the inventor.

Patents stifle innovation for the period of the grant – by definition. It is the right to exclude others from using the invention. Some arguments are made that this allows the patent holder to invest in and develop the invention. This is a macro-view. What if an idea wasn’t patented and free for everyone to use? A strong ecosystem of inventions and improvements around the idea would ensue. A whole economy would ensue. It’s possible that a greater profit on the whole, and a greater good for society, would be made.

Take software for example. Because of some key court decisions, the ability to patent software algorithms was secured by the early 1990s. Prior to this, we all developed and innovated based on well-known algorithms. What if the algorithms in Knuth’s books were patented? What if every algorithm in every text book you ever read was patented? We couldn’t use them. Software wouldn’t be anywhere close to where it is today. But that’s where it’s headed.

Take a look at IP Alliance says that encouraging free/open source makes you an enemy of the USA and When using open source makes you an enemy of the state. Who’s included in the IIPA? That’s right – our friends at the RIAA and MPAA. What software does the RIAA’s site run on?

Server: Apache
X-Powered-By: PHP/5.2.10

But of course – they use two very popular open source packages! Irony at its best. So I guess the RIAA, by their own policy, is an enemy of the state. But of course, I’m probably breaking some sort of IP law by reporting this.

Open Source software (FOSS) is an excellent demonstration of how an IP-free ecosystem works. Companies monetarily benefit everyday from the use of open source. If it weren’t for open source, we wouldn’t have the Internet and web that we have today. The Internet protocol (TCP/IP) was developed in an open environment and specification process. Possibly the most widely-used implementation is based on Bill Joy’s BSD work – all open source. Linux – run on many web servers today – is open source. It’s quite possible that your cell phone contains open source software. Corporations benefit from not having to reinvent the wheel with every phone. The proliferation of many things on the Internet wouldn’t have occurred, nor succeeded, if they were wrapped up in one company’s proprietary technology.

Where are They Now?

What about the big patents? Did a patent give a company a competitive advantage to stay at the fore-front of their invention? Edison and the light bulb: today there’s proliferation of Edison electric companies, but you don’t go out and buy an Edison-brand light bulb. Nope. It took an ecosystem to make the light bulb a common commodity. Edison found more value in providing the electricity to the bulb than the bulb itself.

Bell and the telephone. When AT&T’s patent expired in 1894, a huge ecosystem of phone companies emerged. Telephones took off. Then AT&T started buying up the phone companies and was later converted to a government sanctioned monopoly. AT&T benefited from the ubiquity of the telephone after an ecosystem was created. In 1984, it was broken up and the flood gates opened again. Many companies started producing phones. Bell was forced into realizing there’s more value in providing the phone service than the phone itself.

Henry Ford fought a long-battle to invalidate George Selden’s much earlier car patent. He won the case, invalidated the patent, and opened the doors for all car manufacturers. This is a prime example where the elimination of a patent grew a huge ecosystem. Car manufacturers were freed from Selden’s licensing and pricing restrictions.

Return to the Moon
In January 2004, President Bush called for a return to the moon by 2015. Okay – that only works once. We’ve already done it. A return to the moon now would not be for national spirit, societal development, nor any other noble goal. Straight from the NASA web site: The Moon Mining Activity … Why Return to the Moon Before Going to Mars? Ah – the profit motive. There won’t be any big technological advancement out of that mission. Maybe Mars is a better idea. Or the ocean.

Here’s a lighter take on it: If Man Walked on the Moon Today.

Who won the space race? We all did. By “we” I mean the entire planet. Where is the USSR now? It doesn’t exist. What if the USSR would have made it to the moon first? Would everyone win? The U.S. would be in a much different technological position than it is now. Most likely, the Internet wouldn’t exist either.

The U.S. is the only country to-date which has put men on the moon. 41 years have gone by and no one else has attempted it. Maybe it’s because we were the only ones crazy enough to do so. I think it’s because the U.S. is open and free-thinking. Free and open always win.

Recommended viewing: Moon Machines: Software for the Apollo Mission
Recommended reading: Finding a fair price for free knowledge

The moon mission is also an epic tale of reliability. But that is another blog post…

AlphaMixr Reviewed – Demo Downloads Hit 10,000

Saturday, May 16th, 2009

AlphaMixr, my game for Google Android (T-Mobile G1, et. al.), was reviewed the other day and got 4 out of 5 “droids.” You can read the review at Android Tapp.  You can also read AlphaMixr user reviews on Cyrket (an online Android Market browser).

In other news, AlphaMixr Demo hit the 10,000 download mark today at Android Market.  I think this will pick up even more as additional Android-based devices are released globally this year.

You can see screen shots and more information about AlphaMixr at its website: AlphaMixr.net.

AlphaMixr for T-Mobile G1/Android Released

Friday, February 20th, 2009

Google released paid apps today on the Android Market today (2/20/09) and so my game, AlphaMixr was released into the wild. AlphaMixr is a scrambled word game in the spirit of Text Twist and Jumble. It adds another dimension of Global High Scores so you can compete with other players around the world.

You can read a glowing review from a friend of mine who’s been a beta tester at http://titusj.blogspot.com/2009/02/alphamixr.html

Visit http://AlphaMixr.net to see all of the game details and Google Maps of the high-scorers.

I Will Make You Rich, Allow You to Travel the World, and You Don’t Have to Do Anything!

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

A colleague recommended The 4 Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss the other day. I bit and bought the book to read on vacation.  I got a little more than half way through the book when I had to take Tim’s advice and stop wasting time reading it.

I’ll start by being objective. Tim makes a bunch of claims that cannot be backed up. How do we know he makes $40K-$80K a month with BrainQuicken? It’s a private company – no way to verify the sales, profit, or loss. How do we know he only works 4 hours a week? How do we know any of what he says really works? How do we know that BrainQuicken (the only business he talks about ever owning) isn’t a sink hole? He even admits in his book that he shouldn’t have chosen to sell this product because it requires too much interaction with the customer. If this is the only business you run and it’s not the right product, why wouldn’t you change it? Why? Because it doesn’t matter. It’s a front to sell a book.

We do know that he broke the 1 minute World Record for Tango spins on Regis. Something like 41 spins. You can Google for the video. It’s not impressive. I certainly I could have done the same, albeit with less style. ;-) Why on earth would someone do this? Ah wait…self-promotion.

Now allow me to be a bit cynical. In the book, he starts off talking about himself. A lot. Like for the entire book. I started to raise an eyebrow right after the chapter on his “life” history. Then he proceeds to talk about the “New Rich,” which presumably he’s one of. However, the book advocates freeing up time to allow you to accomplish 6 month mini-goals called “Dreamlines” or mini-retirements. The same section tells you how to calculate how much income you’ll need to accomplish these goals. You then proceed to spend all the money you make on your mini-retirements. How does that make one “Rich” in the money sense of the word? Oh wait, this is the “New Rich”…

Free your time by using Virtual Assistants from India. Seriously? He is helpful by recommending which companies to use.  I’m sure those companies really appreciate his generosity and free advertising (yeah right). I’ve worked with various Indian outsourcers on and off for about 8 years in the software sector (try to confirm that claim). Except for the rare diamond in the rough, the work product that comes back is sub-standard. Usually quite bad. He even talks about his horror story, but continues to recommend them. Have you had a support call with Dell or some other company that uses an India-based call-center? I swear that the people on the phone have only been taught enough english to read the script. Not what I’d want for my customers.

Then he tells you the “secret.” That’s right. Find a good product and sell it. That’s it. Oh, and you don’t want to talk to customers because that might take longer than 4 hours a week. Better let India, Inc. handle that for you. After all, they speak real good english and your customers will absolutely love their politeness and their ability to stick to scripts. It is simple to choose the product – you know – the one that will sell like bananas on a monkey farm and one that no one else can possibly sell. Let someone else make the product, ship the product, handle the phone calls and billing. After all, those selling your product can’t possibly wise-up and see what you’re doing. You only need to check email once a week and watch your bank account grow. Everyone ought to be doing this!

Throughout the book he uses phrases like “…our recommendation…”  Wait.  Who’s “our”? His team in India? He’ll say things that make him sound like he has broad business experience, such as “I recommend only selling products, not services”. Has he ever sold a service? I don’t know, but he doesn’t mention it in the book. He’s 31 years old, a cheesy world-record “breaker” and a Chinese Kickboxing “champion” that didn’t win by kickboxing. Where are the billions? Elon Musk sold Paypal for $1.5 billion when he was 31. I’d much rather listen to baseless claims from someone with a proven track record than a tango twister.

The book often reads like an ad for his website and other businesses. His website is only mentioned a few thousand times. Go there sometime. There’s nothing of substance there. There’s a bunch of unbacked claims and plenty of links to buy his book.

Can you run a $40,000/month business (which isn’t really big – less than $.5M/year) on 4 hours a week? Maybe.  Just don’t expect to have repeat customers or be in business very long. How did Tim Ferriss do it? He wrote a best selling book that everyone desires: Get Rich, Have Fun, and Not Have to Work. He is simply a self-promoter. Save your money and invest it instead. OK, if you really want to waste your money, I’ll sell you a share of my company instead for the same price! ;-)