Archive for July, 2008

The music industry's decline

Monday, July 28th, 2008

My latest post is now up on The Industry StandardHave reports of the music industry’s decline been greatly exaggerated?

For the article, my editor asked me to take a look at the earnings/revenue numbers that have been coming from the major music companies to see if things are really as bad as the companies are claiming. After all, it seems like the double-digit gains in digital should be contributing quite a bit of revenue, and if these companies are still generating millions (or billions) in revenue, how can the major labels and their efforts be branded as “failures.”

The bottom line is that companies are losing money on their bottom line – and anytime that happens, the word failure is tossed about liberally. Until the major music companies figure out a way to improve their margins, sell more digital products, or start working together to adjust their business models to make the digital music market work for them, the major labels are going to continue seeing bad numbers like these from the 2007 EMI Annual Report:

EMI Annual Report

In the course of researching this article, I came across a number of other facts & figures about the digital music industry that might come in handy for some of you, so I thought I would post the links here. These are almost all links to (PDF) files, so consider yourself forewarned.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) 2007 Consumer Profile

RIAA 2007 Year-end Shipment Statistics

IFPI Digital Music Report 2007

Recorded Music Sales 2007 (physical, digital & performance rights revenue)

And here are a few other graphics from that EMI Annual report:

Value of digital music market according to EMI

Digital music as part of music market according to EMI

Just spotted: TinyURL.com's cool new feature

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

Like most Twitter users, I use TinyURL.com to shorten URLs that I post to Twitter in order to help me stay below the 140 character limit. But I was always frustrated by the service because it turned my logical URLs (http://www.16thletter.com/2008/07/24/my-theory-on-twitters-latest-bomb/) into something that no one would be able to recognize (http://tinyurl.com/6a67a3).

But now, TinyURL has a new feature. It allows users to make a custom alias using any letters, numbers or dashes that the user wants to use.

TinyURL new feature

So instead of the really ugly TinyURL that I had before, I now have this one: http://tinyurl.com/twitterbomb.

My theory on Twitter's latest bomb

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

This is just a guess, and I have already admitted that I’m not a techie, but I think that Twitter’s latest failure – the one that has suddenly caused Twitter users to lose followers and people that they’re following – is time-based.

BombMy first account, which I use actively, I signed up for in October 2007. With that account, I have been hovering around the 400 followers mark for a month or so with my followers growing at a pace of about a two per day. I’m following about 530 people and have been since about the time that I joined Twitter. I recently wanted a way to easily see every single post from certain people, so I signed up for a second Twitter account a few weeks ago. Until this morning, I was following 15 people. Two people were following me.

My first account has lost about 50 followers and very few people that I’m following.

My second account has lost ALL my followers and people that I’m following.

My guess – the recent failure is time-based, with most recent followers and people that have been followed being lost. (Hopefully not for good!)

Icon by ten safe frogs

Wanted: A better workplace coffeehouse

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

As I’ve documented many times on this blog, I work alone, from my home office. This is usually great, but sometimes the house gets too quiet or constricting, or I’ve spent too many days in a row with the same walls around me. When that happens, I usually head to a local coffeehouse that has free Wi-Fi, usually Panera Bread.

CoffeehouseToday I’m working at Starbucks in the Barnes & Noble near my house. I needed to buy a book so it was more convenient to stay here rather than make the 10 minute drive to Panera. But here the Wi-Fi’s not free. Granted, it’s only $3.99, but instead of buying the 2-hour pass, I’m opting to do all the offline work I can, and then send everything when I can connect again at home. Not ideal.

All of this has started me thinking about the trend of remote working and the virtual company. The more wireless devices we have, the more places that have access to broadband, the easier it is to work from home, vacation…anywhere really. And companies like Sun Microsystems are even starting to make moves to dismantle entire offices in favor of the cost savings that they get from having an at-home work force.

I am clearly in favor of telecommuting and working from home. But I realized today, in my imperfect, impromptu Starbucks office, that the at-home worker is up against a number of challenges that a better workplace coffeehouse could help fix.

First, the obvious source of the trouble is that humans have issues with isolation. People are born into communities and we are geared toward being around people. Even the extreme introvert likes their aloneness more when they have recently been around people. There are days when the solitary at-home office is too much and we just need to see little kids doing handstands in line while their frazzled mom waits for her Vanilla Latte. (Yes, that is happening in front of me right now.)

Second, the current options to escape that isolation aren’t really working. Aside from the coffeehouse with Wi-Fi, the only option that I have is the library. But both of these options have problems – the library doesn’t allow the conversations and social interactions that at-home workers are craving, and the coffeehouses aren’t equipped for workplace needs (and there are people trying to enjoy a cup of coffee or lunch without having to be immersed in other people’s work).

Finally, there is another problem with the at-home worker that isn’t often talked about. There is a hole that is left by the lack of idea interchange, the constant refining and tweaking of ideas that happens in an office environment. Even with social networking tools and technology to keep us connected at our disposal, at-home workers do the majority of our thinking and planning and decision-making in a vacuum. It’s not our fault – the majority of decisions that are made day-to-day are too small to set up a conference call to discuss. But without the constant input from our co-workers, and the benefit of the collective brain of the group, our decisions are going to lose some edge, some brilliance will be lost that could have been found if we had a group around us to help us refine our visions.

My suggestion to solve this issue is a workplace coffeehouse. My imaginary coffeehouse would have:

– Free unlimited Wi-Fi.

– Coffee and food to be purchased. Perhaps also some kind of a fee structure for use (a monthly membership, like the gym, perhaps?). This business would have to be able to make money, even with a clientele that doesn’t turn over frequently during the day.

– Tables with locks to secure laptops. Nothing is more annoying than having to pack up all your stuff to use the restroom. Locks that can be used temporarily by the person at the table at the time would be incredibly helpful.

– Comfortable chairs that are meant to be sat in for long periods of time without hurting your back.

– Different areas that can be used for different things. There should be areas for tables of 1, 2, 4, 6, and 10 people scattered throughout the room, as well as a couple of glassed-in rooms that people can use for brainstorming or meetings.

– A start-up open pitch night. Once time per week, people would be able to get up and pitch their ideas and invite the crowd to give them instant feedback – this is like an open mic night for businesses.

– A schedule of speakers who would come in periodically to give advice for the at-home worker. Help desk people to answer questions about home networking issues. Financial advisors. VCs. And even management specialist, all with seminars on how to work remotely better.

– Ways for people to meet each other. Too often people look up from their computer only to avert their eyes if they accidentally look my way. These places would need to encourage communication and interaction.

– Social events surrounding the coffeehouse. The coffeehouse’s softball team could compete in the city league, bowling teams could be formed, or maybe the coffeehouse has a bocce court next to it.

Does it seem like I’m recreating the office? Maybe I am, just a little bit. But this could be the office of the future, where people go to work with other folks from their geographic area, all of whom are working on different projects, jobs and careers. Sounds like an interesting place to me.

What other features would you like this workplace coffeehouse to have?

UPDATE: Another possibility would be for bars to do something like this during the day, when they otherwise wouldn’t be making any money. Just think – WiFi during the day, vodka tonics at night. I think that the clientele would become much more dedicated…

Photo by John Althouse Cohen

Foreign language keyboards

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

When I was writing a few articles about Generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs) and International Domain Names (IDNs), I started thinking about what the keyboards must look like for people who live in countries that don’t speak languages that use Roman characters. Since those people need to have their own alphabet on their keyboard – along with the Roman alphabet in order to type domain names at the least – the keyboards must be a mishmash of characters. But I had never seen one.

So I decided to do a little research, and it turns out that this issue is much more complicated than I thought.

Not only are the keyboards for countries that speak languages that have non-Roman characters different, but countries all across Europe use different keyboards, as well, to accommodate the various characters that are popularly used in their languages. You can find more information on all of this here.

QWERTY – This is the most common layout in use, and is used by standard keyboards in the United States.

QWERTZ – Used extensively in Germany and Central Europe. The main difference is that the Y and Z are swapped, and most special characters are replaced by diacritical characters.

AZERTY – Used in France and Belgium, it differs from the QWERTY keyboard in the following: A & Q are swapped; Z & W are swapped; M is moved to the right of L; and to type a number, the shift key must be used (non-shifted numbers are used for accented letters).

There are other Roman-alphabet keyboards that have things moved around for ergonomic benefits, or to increase typing speeds, but the three just mentioned are the primary Roman alphabet keyboards.

Here is some more info on keyboards in non-Roman languages:

Chinese – Conventional keyboards are used to write Chinese characters through software called an “input method editor,” according to Slate. There is no standard system, however, so if things weren’t confusing enough, no two keyboards necessarily look exactly alike in China. This article is very informative about all the other ins and outs of Chinese language keyboards.

Chinese keyboards

Japanese – There are two main ways to input Japanese on a computer – through the use of a romanized version of Japanese called romaji or via keyboard keys that correspond to the Japanese kana (syllabic Japanese scripts.)

Japanese keyboard 

Arabic – Made up of an Arabic AZERTY layout that is common in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia & Arabic countries in North Africa. 

Arabic keyboard
Photo by dweekly

Tibetan- I am including this one here because it was the most unusual one that I saw during my research, with no Roman characters and no numbers. It’s worth mentioning that this is an illustration from Wikipedia, because perhaps in “real-life” the keys would have Roman characters on them.

Tibetan keyboard

When a start-up fails

Monday, July 21st, 2008

Usually when a start-up goes under, the story of the successes and failures along the way dies with the company. By that point, the founders are exhausted by the experience, mentally and physically burned out. Too beat up to write about everything that went wrong.

But this time, we got lucky.

Post mortemRoger Ehrenberg, co-founder of Monitor110, has written this excellent Post Mortem about everything that went wrong with the founding of the company. He boils it all down to “Seven deadly sins.” If you are an entrepreneur, read this article. It will help you avoid some mistakes that can be incredibly costly.

For me, I’m trying to take to heart point #5 – specifically, I need to launch my product as quickly as possible to get input and feedback from my potential customers. Otherwise, I’m developing in a vacuum.

I worked with two other companies in the past that used this post mortem approach regularly. At Let’s Go, where the staff turned over every year (only Harvard students are allowed to work at the company, and usually the managers are seniors), part of our salary was contingent on writing up a report at the end of the summer, after the books shipped to the printers, to tell the people who would have our jobs the following year what we did and why. These reports were my training manual for the job, and were incredibly valuable. At Network World, one editor would be responsible to review every issue of the magazine that came out – they would mark it up with comments and input, and would pass around the issue to every person on staff. Those reviews were always a bit painful (seeing the mistakes that we made – in print – wasn’t a whole lot of fun) but they made us better.

Good luck Roger! And thank you.

Photo by CristinaJucan

My greatest weakness

Monday, July 21st, 2008

WeaknessAnyone who tried to visit any page on this site since last Wednesday already knows what I am about to tell you – my blog has been down for five days. It’s back up now, working just fine, but it appears that the damage has been done. My good SEO ranking on some good terms has been lost, 1/4 of my readers have unsubscribed.

I just wanted to send a quick note out to all of you who have stuck with me through the downtime – thank you! And I’m sorry for the technical difficulties. The short explanation is that this blog is using a technology that one of my new businesses/applications is also using, and when the developers made a change to that application, they managed to take down my blog at the same time. It appears that everything is now fixed and working like it should, hopefully there won’t be any more issues.

This outage really brings to light what I think is my biggest weakness as an entrepreneur - I am not technical enough. I know a bit about technology, definitely enough to talk about it and to understand the concepts, a smattering of HTML. But I am not a “do-er” – and so, when things like this happen, I am at the mercy of others. This fact is hard to take.

I am honestly not sure what the solution to the problem is, either. As the president of my company, I shouldn’t be the one who is doing all the nitty gritty work – that would be a waste of time and resources. I also don’t have the time to go back to school and to take classes to learn all this stuff that I wish I already knew. I could regret my college major (maybe computer science would have been a better choice than English, no matter how much I loved reading those books), but then again, if I had majored in computer science, who knows where I would be now. Maybe the influences of Maya Angelou (On The Pulse of the Morning), Sylvia Plath and Ralph Ellison are part of what has inspired me to be the person I am today, to do what I am doing right now. And regrets aren’t helpful, anyway.

So I put my lack of technical expertise in the category of unavoidable things that suck. At least for now. And I try to use this weakness as a reminder that I can’t build this business on my own, that I need help and input from a wide variety of other people to be successful. And I breathe. Slowly.

Photo by solidstate

For every $1 spent on search, Google gets $1.10

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

I just saw the headlines from a report this week that Google is earning $1.10 of every new search dollar spent. This didn’t make sense (obviously) because Google is magic, but I couldn’t imagine how they were creating money out of nothing. Turns out that the explanation is simpler:

“For every new dollar spent on search in Q2 2008 versus Q2 2007, $1.10 went to Google. Yahoo lost $0.09, and Microsoft lost $0.01. In other words, advertisers are putting all of their new search dollars into Google, and pulling money out of Yahoo Search and Microsoft Live Search.”

Dollar BillLooks like Efficient Frontier Insights, the company that published Search Engine Performance Report: Q2 2008, is looking for publicity with that headline, because it isn’t really accurate. Google may be taking money away from Yahoo and MSN, but they aren’t taking $1.10 of every NEW dollar. Google may be taking old dollars away from its competitors, but it isn’t creating money out of nothing.

Nevertheless, the news remains strong for search advertising. Some other highlights from the report – CPC rates increased for all three search giants compared to Q2 of last year, as did ROI.

Twitter's business model & my two Twitter accounts

Monday, July 14th, 2008

I just posted a new article on The Industry Standard10 ways that Twitter could make money quickly. Please go have a read!

Twitter account
I have written quite a bit about Twitter in the past, ranging from the basic (What is Twitter?) to the dubious (I like Twitter, but it has a big problem), to analysis (The multiple personalities of Twitter). This new article takes a look at the company’s business model (more specifically, it’s lack of a business model) and discusses the ways that the company could make money quickly. The bottom line is that Twitter has a quickly growing and dedicated audience, and because of this one fact, I think that the company will ultimately be successful, no matter what business model it chooses.

The other thing that is happening for Twitter – at least for me – is that the most that I use Twitter, the more I like it and want to use it, and the more that I am discovering new ways to make it work for me. Today, I realized that I am spending too much time going to specific individual’s Twitter pages (for example, mine is here), trying to keep up on what they are doing because I am following so many people I can’t be sure to catch all of the people who I really REALLY want to follow. So I opened a second Twitter account that I don’t post to, and I just use to follow the individuals from which I don’t want to miss a single post.

Before you scoff at me because you think that it’s crazy to have one Twitter account, let alone two, take a look at this article. Apparently, I’m not alone.

Follow me on Twitter at @mchang16.

Facts and figures about International Domain Names

Tuesday, July 8th, 2008

My latest article is now up on The Industry Standard – “Chinese, Arabic and Hindi domain names to go up for sale – finally!” The post discusses the recent domain name news from ICANN, specifically, the announcement that International Domain Names (IDNs) will soon be available in non-Roman languages.

To this point in history, domain names have all been in Roman characters. The reasons for this are explained in the article, so I won’t go into them again here, but I just can’t emphasize enough the impact that this new resolution is going to have on the Internet. Let’s put it this way – if you don’t speak Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Hindi or Arabic, you might want to start learning. English is on the decline, and although it is still the primary language of business, this recent announcement is just continuing to solidify the importance of the rest of the global community on the future of the Internet.

The following are some interesting facts & figures that I came across during my research:

- “The German ccTLD (.de) remains the largest ccTLD in terms of the total base of domain name registrations, with .cn and .uk as the next largest ccTLDs. Quarter over quarter, .de grew 2%, .uk grew 4% and .cn grew 23%. When viewed year over year, .cn’s growth at 199% outpaced both .de (11%) and .uk (16%).” From VeriSign’s Domain Name Industry Brief (pdf)

 Countrywise domain names
Chart from Webhosting.info

- In China, over 80% of the population cannot speak English. – ICANN

- 92% of the world’s population does not speak English. -ICANN 

- By 2050, more people will speak Chinese, Hindi (and its close relative, Urdu) or Arabic as a first language than English. -EurekAlert

- The languages growing the most rapidly are Bengali, Tamil and Malay, which are spoken in various countries in South and Southeast Asia. -EurekAlert

Changing of world's population
Source: EurekAlert

- The IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) is currently testing the new ccTLDs – here is what some of them will look like:

 International Domain Names
From IANA site

I can’t help but get the feeling that the United States’ days are numbered in terms of its dominance of all things Internet.