Posts Tagged ‘TechCrunch’

The battle over how to manage my money

Monday, August 25th, 2008

In my family, I manage the money. I pay the bills, I collect the receipts, and I balance the checkbook. I think it was my mom who taught me how to do all these things. I have this clear image of her at the dining room table about once a month, using her pencil (always) to balance the checkbook.

MoneyThings are different now. Instead of writing a few checks every month and paying cash or straight credit for everything else, Chris and I both use our ATM cards to pay for almost everything. From $4.14 at the Dunkin Donuts drive through to $56.77 at the gas station, we almost never pay for anything in cash. This means that balancing the checkbook has become a much more time-intensive exercise.

For the past two years, I’ve used Excel to manage the accounts. My financial management spreadsheet has multiple tabs for each account, and every receipt, check, and transaction gets entered into one or multiple tabs. This is a huge pain and a major time-sink. I’ve been talking to friends and family about their solutions, and none of them seem to have a better option that would work for me.

So I decided to examine the online personal finance options. The three solutions that I tested were Mint.com, Quicken Online and Geezeo.

MINT.COM
Mint.comGoing in I was most excited about Mint. They won the TechCrunch40 best of show, their online budgeting and money-saving tools look really awesome, and the service is free. I was able to sign up without any difficulty, but when I tried to enter my primary checking account information, the trouble began. I selected my bank from a list, entered my username and password, answered some questions and waited for the service to authenticate.

Error message: Wrong username or password?

After about two weeks of trying to get my account set up with Mint, after changing my username and password twice, I started searching the user forums for information about my bank (Citizens Bank, one of the major banks in the New England area, with more than 1,600 branches in the U.S.). I should have checked there sooner, because the forums revealed a number of threads about Citizens Bank, all with the same theme – it can’t be added. Here are some examples of threads related to this topic and the number of “views” of the threads:

Adding Citizens Bank a No-Go (11,204 views)

Problems adding accounts (27, 252 views)

Official Citizens Bank Support Petition! (10,337 views)

I also received confirmation of this fact from a Mint representative (about a week after I sent in a question via their Web form), that said basically the same thing: Citizens checking and savings accounts are not supported, and we can’t provide the eta for the addition of any bank.

Foiled.

QUICKEN ONLINE
Quicken OnlineQuicken Online, from Intuit, was the next solution that I tried. I had used the software version of Quicken in the past, and had a good experience. I was able to easily sign up for a Quicken Online account. There is a fee to use the service ($2.99 per month), which is certainly a reasonable amount in order to save myself some of the current money management pain that I am having, plus there is a 60-day free trial to make sure that I like the application before ever paying.

The test came when I tried to set up my checking accounts. Success! I spent some time using the tool, and thought it was easy to use and intuitive.

GEEZEO
GeezeoStill, I thought I could go for a free solution, so I tried Geezeo. This solution was one that I hadn’t heard of, so when I got to the site I clicked the link to watch the tour. The link didn’t work, there was no tour. And that was the end of Geezeo.

THE WINNER
I have been using Quicken Online for two weeks now, and it’s been fantastic. Dare I say that it is changing my life? It is definitely making managing our family’s personal finances a great deal easier.

Money photo by jenn_jenn

Two fun apps: Yearbook Yourself & Mosaic Maker

Sunday, August 24th, 2008

It’s the weekend, so what better thing to do than to procrastinate using fun online apps? There were two that I have been eager to try – Yearbook Yourself (discovered via TechCrunch) and Mosaic Maker from Big Huge Labs (discovered via Non Society).

What can I say? These apps are fun. With Yearbook Yourself, you can upload a recent photo, and use it to find out what you might have looked like if you graduated in the years 1950 through 2000. Some of the images of me are frighteningly close to home. And I kinda wish that 1966 would come back because it turns out that I look groovy with a giant ball of hair on my head (second row from the top, fourth picture). I took the images created from Yearbook Yourself and uploaded them to Mosaic Maker to come up with this great grid of images.

Small mosaic

Both tools are fun. And if you Yearbook Yourself, please do share.

Internet advertising numbers for 2007 – higher than predicted

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

In October, I posted the Internet Advertising Bureau’s estimates for U.S. online ad revenue for 2007; at the time, they were predicting $20 billion to $21 billion.

According to the numbers released today (which I saw first in TechCrunch), the IAB’s preliminary estimate for 2007 is that Internet advertising hit $21.1 billion in the U.S. – just slightly higher than they initially predicted.

TechCrunch also reports on the estimated numbers from a couple other sources:

Kelsey Group: $22.5 billion
IDC: $25.5 billion

My iPhone Web Clip icon

Tuesday, February 5th, 2008

This is pretty trivial, I admit, but since I heard that the most recent iPhone update allows you to create a custom icon for your Website that will be deposited on the iPhone home page, I have wanted one for 16th Letter. It doesn’t help that I saw BoingBoing’s and TechCrunch’s and had some Web clip envy.

And now I have one. So go ahead, add it to your iPhone (or iPod Touch)!

iPhone Web Clip icon

iPhone icon up close

Here are the instructions on how to create your own Web Clip icon, from Apple.

This is another set of step-by-step instructions.

I hear that this is pretty easy to do. (I had a developer who did this for me, but he said it was a piece of cake.)

The Industry Standard is back

Monday, February 4th, 2008

I just got an email with the subject line: “Thanks from the Industry Standard.” Here’s what the message had to say:

“You were one of the first in line to ask to see the brand-new Industry Standard. To show our appreciation for your interest, you are being notified of today’s official launch!

“The site is not only designed to give readers insights into technology and the Internet economy, but also provides a unique community feature — a predictive market.”

The new industry standard logoI’ve written about the Industry Standard in the past, related to the fall of the mighty business (print) publications that I used to follow. But today the site (as a Web-only property) is relaunching.

The site is positioning itself as a “prediction market,” offering analysis and opinion from writers and experts, and then giving its readers the opportunity to agree or disagree – and hopefully use the “power of collective intelligence” to predict the correct outcome.

From the site:

“The prediction market articulates the same emphasis on community knowledge and networking that is perhaps the Web 2.0 era’s most important contribution — the power of collective intelligence. Prediction markets have proven to be remarkably powerful tools for gauging events and trends, and we think that the addition of this technology to the site will provide a very special type of meaningful interaction.”

From my first look at the site, it is debatable whether it will have much of an impact. The contributors and analysis are good, but nothing to truly distinguish it from the content on any other site. The predicition market stuff is vaguely interesting at first glance, but who has time to vote on more news stories? Even so, my prediction is that the Industry Standard brand and the IDG parent company (with the top tech brands in its arsenal of sponsors – Intel is the “launch sponsor”) will be enough to guarentee a revenue-generating future.

Looks like I may be betting against TechCrunch on this one.

New music models worth checking out

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

In a recent article, I made a series of predictions about the future of the music industry – one of those predictions was that “many new online and digital services will rise and fall.” Now that I think about it a bit more, that prediction seems kind of cheap because in the course of researching that story, I came across lots of the new online and digital services that have already risen. So half of the prediction was more just reporting than prophesying.

Even so, I thought it might be helpful to include a list of the new music models that I found while doing the research. If my prediction holds, many of these will eventually fail, and most of the others will be acquired or consolidate. Staying on top of this quickly changing industry will be tough for awhile, but knowing what’s out there now is a good place to start.

This list is obviously not exhaustive, so if you know of others, or have feedback on any of those listed below, please leave a comment. Also, some of these companies have revenue models that are clear, but others were a bit less so. If you have any input, let me know.

GoombahGoombah logoMusic recommendations based on your iTunes playlist and a comparison of what other people who share similar music interests are listening to. Goombah scans your iTunes library, finds other people who share your musical tastes, and then recommends songs to you based on the songs that they listen to. Revenue model: Affiliate income with potential to get into paid placement, with labels paying for their artists music to be part of the recommendations.

finetune- This site lets you type in an artist and they will createa custom playlist of songs based on that artist and others “like” them. Alternately, you can build your own playlist of up to 45 songs from 15 artists. You can then take your custom playlist and embed it on your blog or MySpace page. Revenue model: advertiser-supported

Groove Mobile – The leading music-for-your-cellphone provider,Groove Mobile logo they have mobile downloads, P2P sharing, music recommendations, streaming radio and music subscriptions. Groove Mobile also powers Orange’s Music Player (U.K.) and the Sprint Music Store. Revenue model: Subscriptions

Livewire Musician – This Web application lets bands, labels or managers book gigs and tours, Livewire Musician Logocommunicate with fans, manage radio promotions, manage the press, and track radio play. A basic account is free, and there are a la carte premium services available. Revenue model: Licensing fees

matchmine – Suggests other songs (and movies and blogs) that youmatchmine logo‘ll be interested in based on your preferences. The company is a product of The Kraft Group/New England Patriot’s interactive media and innovation team. Revenue model: Sells general user data to partners

Nextcat – Social networking for the entertainment industry, Nextcat logowhich in the entertainment industry looks more like traditional networking. Revenue model: Advertising and sponsored listings and placements

nimbit – Business management tools for the indie musician. The nimbit logocompany’s mission is “to put musical artists in complete control of their own music business and brand, enabling them to reach their full potential as quickly as possible.” They do this by providing solutions that allow artists to sell CDs and digital downloads, merchandise, and provides assistance with online ticket sales, e-mail list management, Website design and content hosting and a variety of other services. Revenue model: Paid services

OurStage – This site works kind of like a traditional “battle of the bands.” Bands upload their music, users OurStage logoof the site vote on what they like the best. Every month there are winners of cash prizes. Revenue model: The site sells the music that is uploaded to the site.

Sonicbids – Connecting bands and music promoters. The site allows musicians to put together Sonicbids logoone digital press kit (DPK) that is then distributed to promoters and helps the artists book gigs without having to send out physical press kits. Revenue model: Promoters pay a one-time fee and artists pay for submissions.

Amie Street  – This site allows indie artists to upload their Amie Street logomusic – the more popular the song, the more expensive it is to download. All songs are free to start and then move up in cost the more popular that they get. When users recommend songs to their friends, they get credit to buy more music. Revenue model: Earn 30% of every song sold

Strayform – Artists put proposals online and they are (or aren’t) funded by the fans who see Strayform logothem. According to Strayform, “Fan funded proposals let artist get paid without giving up a big cut, without blowing money on ads, and without long term restrictive contracts.” All the media is Creative Commons licenced, so fans can use everything freely on any device and share on P2P networks. Revenue model: ?

SellaBand – With this site, musicians need to find 5,000 people who “believe in them” (people prove this SellaBand logoby giving $10 to the artist) and then SellaBand takes the artist to the “best producers and studios in town.” Then the three (artist, believer and SellaBand) split the profits from sales of $.50 downloads. According to this article from TechCrunch, some artists have hit the $50,000 mark and have already headed to the studios. Revenue model: Splits revenue with the artist and users

CDBaby – Online record store that sells albums by independent musicians. They oCDBaby logonly sell music that comes direct from musicians, and pay the musicians directly, weekly. They also help to facilitate the digital distribution of music. Revenue model: They take $4 per CD sold, plus an initial $35 fee.

iTunes – This is a site that probably needs very little introduction. MP3 library, iTunes logofrom which users can download songs for $.99 per track, $9.99 per digital album. Revenue model: iTunes takes 30% of each sale.

Amazon MP3 Downloads- Works just about the same way that iTunes does, except that users don’t have to download a special player to get songs, and digital albums cost $8.99 each. Revenue model: Amazon takes a percentage of each sale

Rhapsody- Another MP3 download site, thRhapsodyis one features unlimited downloads based on various subscription deals. Revenue model: Memberships plans starting at $12.99 per month

TuneCore- This site allows artists to upload their digital tracks, and then TuneCore manages TuneCoretheir relationships with digital distributors, including iTunes, Amazon.com and Rhapsody. I wrote a more in-depth assessment of the site here. Revenue model: Charge artists a yearly fee

In compiling this list, I relied heavily on TechCrunch and Xconomy. Thanks!

What's going to happen to the music industry?

Tuesday, January 8th, 2008

Everywhere I turn it seems that there is a story about the demise or revolution of the music industry (depending on your perspective), sparked by two huge music-related stories that broke last week.

The first was the report that music sales were down 9.5% in 2007. The bright note from that report was that the sale of digital music tracks was up 45%, but even that huge leap didn’t help the industry overall. The second was the announcement that Sony BMG will be joining the other three major labels in offering DRM-free songs.

The music industry is scrambling to deal with the impact of the Internet on its traditional business models.

Going out of Business Music WorldIn this October 2007 post, Michael Arrington of TechCrunch sums up nicely the issues that are facing the music industry, and ReadWriteWeb echoes some of the same sentiments. Basically, sales of CDs and digital downloads are not going to make huge amounts of money for anyone going forward. Both argue that the real money will be made from ticket sales for live performances, merchandising, and special limited-edition physical copies of the music.

But there is money being made from digital downloads – it’s just not of the scale that the major record labels are used to. In 2007, there were 844.2 million digital tracks sold. Radiohead’s recent experiment, in which the band released an album online for free download and asked listeners to pay what they wanted, made them more money from the digital distribution then they made from the digital distribution of all the rest of their albums combined. If this seems strange, there is a simple reason – Radiohead was released from their contract with their record label, a contract that in the past excluded them from any royalties from the digital distribution of their music (remind anyone of the current writer’s strike?) Many signed bands and musicians are currently stuck in contracts like these, the relics of an era when digital distribution didn’t really matter.

Of course, there is still money being made in the music industry, but as fewer people are buying CDs (that are costly to produce and distribute) and as more people are downloading digital music (that is practically free to reproduce and distribute), less money is being made. And, the money is being spread among more musicians. The Long Tail is in full force in the music industry, allowing more people to make money as consumers spend their dollars on a wider variety of music and musicians.

So this puts the music industry in this strange position. The indie artists, who are making some money on their small but loyal audiences and the Long Tail, but often not enough money to live off of, would be psyched to get a record contract because the record companies have the marketing and distribution capabilities that they don’t have access to. The big (and already famous) bands, are trying to get out of their contracts in favor of the freedom that the indie artists enjoy. And the record companies are panicking. This is creating a weird, wild situation where everything is about to totally implode if change doesn’t happen quickly.

The really big question is: What online business model is going to work for the music industry going forward? Any successful model will have to support both the record labels and the artists who are producing music. And it will have to be one that consumers will spend their money on.

Here are my predictions:

  1. The new model will be all about the audience.In the past, bands knew how many records or songs they sold, but not the name of the individual that bought them. Digital download and distribution, as well as social networking sites like MySpace, now let musicians know much more intimately who their audience is. By collecting the name of the individual who downloads their song (whether they pay for it or get the download for free), musicians will be able to have a much more personal relationship with their audience – and they will be able to re-market to them in the future. As musicians begin to realize that having the name of their fan is worth more money than the $0.70 they get from iTunes, they will either begin  offering all their songs for free, or Apple will have to adjust their business model and begin sharing data with the artists. Radiohead may have been the first major label to try offering free downloads, but many others are following suit. Trent Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails fame), just produced a Saul Williams album and released it online the same way that Radiohead did – and he has told everyone about the data that they collected. Reznor is bemoaning the fact that only 18.3% of the people who downloaded the album paid $5 for it. He thinks that this stinks (and it might) but he is neglecting the really exciting fact that 154,449 people downloaded Williams’ album! That is an audience of 154,449 if you at least collected an email address. That is a significant fan base – and in my opinion, it is going to be the primary model of the future.
  2. Musicians will begin releasing songs more frequently, as well as more versions of each song. When digital downloads become the norm (and that day is close), there will be no need to stick with the CD format where musicians release all their fully produced songs in one giant lump. Instead, they’ll release things as they are done, there will be more live performance and acoustic versions of songs, and more interesting bits, more looks into the recording studios, more evidence that songwriters and musicians are humans and that every version that they play isn’t perfect. (UPDATE: Looks like Mark Cuban agrees with this prediction.)
  3. Record labels will try to hold onto their business models. They will succeed only until current contracts run out, but they will eventually fail. They will do this not because they don’t see the writing on the wall, but because they can’t figure out how to change.
  4. A new type of record label will emerge. The new label will serve more as a helper to the artist than an owner of the artist. This new label will assist with marketing, bookings, networking and the other promotional aspects of the music business. But instead of owning all the rights to the artist, musicians will PAY their labels for their help, and the musicians will retain their rights. The new labels that will be successful will be the ones that know how to do SEO, online marketing and social networking. These types of labels will become the norm. (And they probably wont’ be called record labels.) (UPDATE: Looks like CNET agrees with this prediction: “If we end up ridding the world of labels, we’ll only have to re-create them–in some other, probably more nimble form.”)
  5. Apple will be one of the new “record labels.”
  6. Many new online and digital services will rise and fall. In 2-3 years, we’ll be left with the winners. At least three of the winners will be companies that no one has even heard of yet.
  7. There will be new ways to buy music. Walking through Target, no longer will you head to the music section to buy music. Instead, as you hear a song piped over the airways, or walk past a TV that is playing a music video and decide you like the song, you will be able to use your phone or mp3 player to purchase and and download the song instantly.
  8. The stuff inside the CD case will still be valuable in digital format, but it will look completely different. People still buy CDs for the lyrics and the liner notes inside – as well as for the artwork and the experience of opening the case and looking through the packaging. This won’t change, there will always be a market (although a smaller one) for the special edition hardcopy CDs. And it won’t be long until someone comes up with a way to sell that stuff in digital format, as well. But although the digital information will be the same, it won’t look the same as the CDs of today. This will be a huge money-maker, much bigger than anyone expects.

UPDATE: This Music Lessons post by Seth Godin is an awesome add-on to this article. Go read it.

Photo by SqueakyMarmot

Video is not going to kill the Internet in 2010

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

YouTube logoLast week, I posted my first video to YouTube. Like most videos that are uploaded to the site, mine was for friends, a silly inside joke wishing my friend Kim a happy birthday in a public and embarrassing manner.

But after posting the video – which was incredibly easy to do – I started wondering how many people have uploaded videos to YouTube since the site was founded in February 2005. It’s difficult to find stats about YouTube because the company (owned by Google) doesn’t often release information on its users, but this Reuters article from July 2006 claims that, when the article was written, 65,000 videos were being posted to the site per day. If that number is accurate, it’s also likely to be much higher by now. (Although another more recent article from TechCrunch estimates that the number of videos being uploaded to the site daily is between 10,000 and 65,000.)

Some more stats – Compete.com shows that the number of people visiting YouTube is 49,532,320, up 4.5% this month and 94% this year, placing the site’s audience more than double Facebook’s (24,264,850), and gaining on MySpace’s (65,210,800). And that Reuters article claims that in 2006, visitors were watching more than 100 million videos per day on YouTube – again, that figure has likely soared in the past year and a half.

From these stats, I think it’s safe to say that online video is huge – and remember these numbers are from YouTube alone. There are many other online video sites that are popular and gaining audience (Hulu comes to mind).

But all this online video watching isn’t going to happen without consequences, according to the experts. Recent and well-reported (see stories here, herehere and here) research from Nemertes Research shows that by the year 2010, there could be serious slow-downs in the Internet from all the bandwidth demands unless infrastructure is boosted to keep up. According to the report, Nemertes estimates “the financial investment required by access providers to bridge the gap between demand and capacity ranges from $42 billion to $55 billion, or roughly 60%-70% more than service providers currently plan to invest.”

Chicken LittleThe bandwidth demands on the Internet’s infrastructure are clearly rising. But the sky is not falling. Although you would think it just might be from the recent coverage that this research has sparked:

Internet Might Collapse in 2010
Internet to go down in 2010?

And my personal favorite:

Back to Soup Cans and String?

Does this remind anyone of anything, like, maybe a technology issue that was supposed to cripple business a decade ago? To me, this is really starting to sound a lot like Y2K.

Granted, the coverage will have to continue for months and the fear, uncertainty and doubt will have to rise significantly to reach Y2K levels. But in its early stages, the rumblings are the same. And I would like to suggest that we will see the same result.

The Nemertes report claims that to avert the crisis, an extra $42 billion to $55 billion needs to be invested into the infrastructure of the Internet. To put this in context, in preparation for Y2K, “the United States government spent $8.8 billion dollars on Y2K fixes. Private U.S. businesses shelled out an estimated $100 billion dollars to prepare for the bug,” according to an article by CNN.

There is money to be spent when it’s needed. And there is time to correct these issues before they cause us to revert back to soup cans and string. Even the folks sponsoring the research agree. As Internet Innovation Alliance (IIA) co-Chairman Larry Irving told USA Today:

“We’re not trying to play Paul Revere and say that the Internet’s going to fall. If we make the investments we need, then people will have the Internet experience that they want and deserve.”

.mobi domains sell for high price tags

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007

A recent domain name auction at the T.R.A.F.F.I.C. conference in Miami featured a number of high price-tag domain name sales, including one million dollar domain name - computer.com sold for $2.2 million. Three .mobi domains sold for six-figure prices at the auction:

Poker.mobi  - $150,000

Ringtones.mobi-  $145,000

News.mobi -$110,000

This is suprising, because, as a TechCrunch post pointed out, this is a “domain many people might not have heard of, let alone used.”

Bye, bye Business 2.0

Friday, October 5th, 2007


Business 2.0 final coverI’m at Logan Airport in Boston, heading out on a weekend trip to visit my friends in Baltimore, and I just ran across the final issue of Business 2.0 and had to buy it. Reading the final issue of this magazine is going to be like saying good-bye to an old friend for me. I can’t say that I read every issue since the magazine launched almost a decade ago, but I was a subscriber for years, particularly during my time at executive editor of Publish magazine when I would read every issue from cover-to-cover and stick post-it notes to its pages when an article gave me inspiration for a story. (That happened often!) During those days, Business 2.0 and The Industry Standard were the print publications to beat. The boom was, well, booming and marketing dollars were flowing toward both of these publications – it was not uncommon for a single issue to have up to 600 pages. At the time, if even the shadow of Business 2.0 fell upon you, you were blessed. So we transitioned the audience of Publish magazine from “graphic designers” to “Internet communication professionals” to try to share a tiny bit of the space. The magazine continued to inspire media ventures through its years, including Michael Arrington’s, who writes, “The story style and content was a big inspiration for starting TechCrunch, even though we are a poor imitation and rarely do it justice.”
I could not have put it better. I have a tremendous amount of respect for that publication and really fond memories of those days before I moved full time to the Internet. So long, Business 2.0. I’m sad to see you go.

(As an aside, I just visited the old Web site for The Industry Standard, and on that site there’s a note that says “Coming back…The Industry Standard”)