Archive for July, 2010

Crowdsourcing for fun

July 20, 2010

The coalition government has been inviting people to suggest laws that might be repealed – a high profile example of crowdsourcing but also one where one assumes that the government isn’t going to take all the suggestions too literatally.  But I’m intrigued by Nick Clegg’s comments that this should unleash an element of fun, reported in http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10470071 .  Perhaps this is really just collective therapy for the electorate, giving them an opportunity to sound off about their own ideas?

Phones and the older generation

July 20, 2010

For various reasons I’ve recently been looking at mobile phones designed specifically for older users.  The most prominent player appears to be Doro, a Swedish company run by an entrepreneurial bunch of people who are mostly still under fifty.  I can’t help thinking that part of the brilliance of their business model is to come up with a range where the more expensive products have the least functionality – for instance the more expensive and specialist phones in the range have text messaging disabled.  However it’s an interesting example of a niche market and it’s clear that a lot of effort has gone into the ergonomics of the keypad and display, to make them easy and comfortable for people who might struggle with many current mobile phones.  There are a couple of other players: the Emporia life phone, made by an Austrian company, with its angular lines and orange display, has something of a 1970s retro look to it, and Binatone also makes a big-button mobile phone.  It’s a niche market, but an interesting one to watch.

Mashups and table lamps

July 20, 2010

A very simple example of a mashup (combining input from more than one source on a website) occurs when YouTube videos are embedded into other sites.  I was rather intrigued by this one which is a neat pun on the name of the Anglepoise light.  Since the reason I was browsing the Anglepoise website in the first place was to source a replacement for a much-used Anglepoise that had become detached from its heavy base and wasn’t easily repairable, my advice to anybody watching the video would be not to try this at home…

This week’s scam

July 20, 2010

Yesterday I had a phone call at home from somebody purporting to be from BT, promising that he could arrange to stop any unsolicited marketing calls.  Now I am registered with the telephone preference service, which stops most calls.  However I do still get calls from genuine market researchers (always very willing to give their credentials and to hang up if I don’t want to talk to them), from organisations with which I already have a relationship, and from sundry scammers whose numbers always show up on the caller display as international/unavailable.  This call came across as international and unavailable – which didn’t seem quite right since I’ve received calls from BT in the past which originated with call centres in India but came through with a UK 0800 number.

The caller proudly told me that he was working with the TPS, that my original registration expired after a short while, a statement that is transparently rubbish, and, rather bizarrely, that I could expect a handwritten letter from the TPS confirming my registration.  Fortunately I didn’t stay on the phone long enough to reach the next stage, where by all accounts the caller would have asked for a credit card number.

I’m puzzled by the economics behind this sort of scam.  I can believe that a few people might be gullible enough to believe that this was a paid service.  But email spam, phishing attacks, even autodiallers which phone up with a recorded voice, work because the costs entailed are minimal.  This scam depended on somebody spending time in a call centre (albeit presumably on a very low wage in the developing world) trying to persuade people to pay up, and presumably the perpetrators got enough responses to make it worthwhile.

It also occurs to me that this sort of thing would be much more difficult to perpetrate if caller display worked properly internationally: it does, in some circumstances, for mobile phones but on my BT landline at least any incoming calls from outside the UK come through with the caller’s number marked as unavailable

Getting groceries from Amazon

July 8, 2010

This piece from Reuters links Amazon’s entry into the grocery market with Ocado’s imminent share offering.  But I’m unconvinced that Amazon and Ocado are likely to be close competitors.  Ocado’s strengths are in logistics and the supply chain and on the whole are based on achieving economies of scale, hence their ambitious targets for growth and their focus on getting people to do a big weekly shop with Ocado.  One of Amazon’s strengths is its ability to make its payment and fulfilment mechanism available to a range of small sellers (for instance second-hand bookshops), and it’s this strength that will help Amazon in the food market, as they can connect buyers with a whole range of small and specialised food shops.  So Amazon could become the channel of choice for ordering particular delicacies now and again, but I’d be surprised if they go for the conventional large supermarket business.

Does first mover advantage exist?

July 5, 2010

Oliver Burkeman in the Guardian this weekend addresses the topic of ‘first mover advantage’ – much as he doesn’t use the term.  But his fundamental point is very sound, that very often the first businesses to introduce a novelty are forgotten, and leave it to others to develop the idea effectively.  He rightly points to Apple with the iPod as an example of a business which took others’ ideas and incorporated them into a successful product.  I’d just add, that Apple have been clever enough to continue improvements to the iPod and derivatives, and to know when to bring successive products to the market.  And also that Apple weren’t the first business to take technology that somebody else had invented, and use it to create a personal music player.  Sony did something very similar with the first walkman a generation earlier, recognising that the technology existed to make small portable tape players and that it could be incorporated into consumer products.