The World in 22 Minutes

This quote from Jon Banner, executive producer of ABC Nightly News, is one of those truths that are said innocently enough without the speaker realizing how much they are saying about why the news business is in the trouble that it is in. If you only have 22 minutes to inform and educate your viewers, are you capable of actually informing or educating them on any one subject much less a range of them?

“It’s a very different editorial process when you have 24 hours to fill as opposed to 22 minutes,”

[From Divide between right, mainstream media - Michael Calderone and Mike Allen - POLITICO.com]

I’ve said it before and will continue saying it, the networks should simply abandon the evening news format and refocus the resources on a next generation online offering (think of something like Hulu but exclusively focused on news content), and supporting the local affiliates who are already well into failure mode.

UPDATE: The other thing that I could not help but notice is the developing cabal of dismiss’ists who say because Glenn Beck is an entertainer that his program should be discounted insofar as it’s ability to present news. I am seeing this with greater frequency, the traditional media saying “well they are just cable” or “that’s not news, it’s entertainment” or “we are journalists, not bloggers” as if you need some regulatory certification or accreditation in order to do journalism. What the traditional news business can’t seem to stomach is that their profession isn’t that complex after all and their historical barrier for entry was not access but distribution, which in our age is not a steep barrier to overcome at all.

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Apps.gov

The Federal government launched Apps.gov as a one stop clearinghouse for software as a service applications that the GSA makes available to government agencies. It’s a good idea and if coupled with good oversight and accountability should net the government (aka your money) significant savings through better utilization of services (minimize shelfware), and a streamlined purchasing process.

For vendors it should be equally compelling because while getting on the GSA schedule is half of the battle the other half is going out and selling your products to government agencies even after you have been approved to sell to them. This storefront should make it easier to sell to the government although it won’t take all of the legwork out of the equation by any means.

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If there is one potential problem for software providers it is that the pricing they are making available to the government is exposed for everyone to see. This was always more or less the case because a FOIA request would certainly have yielded GSA pricing but never before has it been so easy to see what a company is charging the government for technology.

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Look for the Union Label

Count me among the majority of people who believe that labor unions are ultimately destructive to the American economy. I have little doubt that environmental extortion being accused in this report is in fact happening and I would further speculate that Trades Council officials would not only admit to it off the record but do so happily.

The use of environmental laws to forestall development is not unprecedented and only serves to underscore how perverse the complex web of environmental regulation has become in California where desired projects, housing, that have met review requirements could be threatened at any point by any organization with an agenda not driven by environmental concern. It is just one of the many reasons why the building cost per square foot is so high in the Bay Area relative to other parts of the country.

Spiers should pull the plug on this development unless the City steps in to fight for the integrity of the overarching system but being as how this is SF and a labor union is involved, I can’t see any scenario where that would happen… meanwhile jobs that could be created are stalled and tax revenue from property and construction activity is lost.

He contends the appeal on environmental grounds is a strong-arm tactic to get him to agree to have the project done exclusively with union labor. (Documents show Spiers has committed to using a union general contractor and said about 70 percent of the work could be union.)

“Even if his claim to us that the project may be ’70 percent union’ is to be believed, this means at minimum that three (out) of 10 jobs on a large, prominent and highly valuable project will almost certainly not pay wages and benefits that are standard for this area and necessary for a decent standard of living,” Building and Construction Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Michael Theriault wrote in response.

[From City Insider : Developer says green concerns really a shakedown]

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Get the Gist of Things Quickly

I’ve been participating in the private beta for Gist and have many good things to say about the product but to simply say that finally there is a product that brings your inbox together with web content and activity streams is huge. What Friendfeed did for social networks Gist can do for email and it is beyond question that the email marketplace is several orders of magnitude larger than social networks, now and in the future.

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What do I like about Gist? In a nutshell the fact that it is a cloud based service as opposed to something I have to download and install means two things. First, I am not frozen out if I use Gmail (which I do) instead of Exchange and secondly I can expect the service to expand faster than an on premise solution in terms of the range of content services enabled. I also appreciate that I have to manage very little in terms of profile and settings in order to make it work, Gist is very good at determining the appropriate settings for external content.

The Gist team has done a lot with a very small team and what we are seeing with the evolving product is essentially the realization of social CRM as a category. Not only can I quickly see previous correspondence and profile data for a contact – my real social graph – but I can also see what that person is publishing, which speaks directly to their interests and perspectives.

There is so much to appreciate in this service that I think it’s best to stop writing and send you over to Gist.com to signup for your own account, you won’t be disappointed.

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Redflex Struggles

Could not have happened to a nicer bunch of folks… and this serves as a reminder that these companies operate at the behest of the public, not independent of, and the increasing public opposition to red light cameras can force them to change their illegitimate ways.

The largest provider of red light camera and speed camera services in the US admitted yesterday that public opposition has begun to affect the bottom line. In an announcement to the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX), Melbourne-based Redflex Traffic Systems reported a nine percent drop in net profit for the year ended June 30, 2009. This has come about in part as motorists increasingly refuse to pay automated fines and use public pressure to force cities to eliminate photo enforcement programs.

“We have been adversely affected by reduced collection rates on some of our US contracts, write-downs on several contracts that have not been renewed, extended start-up difficulties with a major state-wide speed contract in Arizona and costs in dealing with litigation and legislative issues,” a Redflex statement explained. “These and other factors have affected profitability for the year.”

[From Public Opposition Drives Down Redflex Profit Margin]

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The Death of $2k Navigation Systems

Car companies have focused on navigation systems as a core technology offering for at least a decade now, and remarkably the price of these systems has stayed pretty constant, about $2,000. Few manufacturers offer the nav system standalone, you typically get it as part of a “technology package” that includes things like integrated bluetooth, parking sensors or cameras, and satellite communication to a concierge service (that few of us have ever used). On balance, it still comes out that the nav system is about $2k of value, according to the manufacturers.

I was thinking recently that for my next vehicle purchase I will skip the nav system package and the reason is my iPhone. While the plain ‘ol iPhone is plenty good, with real time traffic (touted as a new feature for in-vehicle systems), the aftermarket apps for the iPhone, from TomTom and Navigon, are even better. Why use the nav system in my car when the iPhone works just as well and has a better user experience (especially with “send to phone” in Google Maps)?

Users have been begging for it, and now Navigon has updated the Mobile Navigator [iTunes link] app to read street names to you as you drive.

[From Holy Grail of turn-by-turn arrives: Navigon updates GPS app with text to speech]

This represents an enormous strategic error on the part of auto manufacturers. Instead of complimenting in-vehicle nav systems with a web and mobile offering, and working to drive down the price points on these systems, they milked them for every cent of margin they could get and ignored the advances that were well under way in the mobile app world, which created not only a huge opening for a competitive technology but instilled in their customers, like me, a good degree of schadenfreude, hoping they get hoisted up by their own petards for treating me as they have.

For all the talk of telematics over the last couple of decades, car manufacturers continue to treat in vehicle technology as a standalone system rather than a networked component part of a bigger system offering. Occasionally we see advances like the Send to Car feature in Google Maps and Yahoo Maps that works with Mercedes and BMW vehicles (2008 models and later only), but even here we find something that car manufacturers fail to embrace – upgrades.

Satellite communication systems are fairly standard in most cars but aside from voice communications (to their call center only) these systems don’t do much. Why haven’t car makers embraced using these networks to upgrade existing systems in older cars with new features? The nav system in my 2007 Mercedes is functionally the same as what got offered in 2008, minus the Send to Car feature on the web, and when I called the MBZ Telematics service to ask them about upgrading my 2007, they treated me like I was from Mars. Surely this is not something that they have not ever thought of?

This year I declined to renew the $250 a year Mercedes Telematics annual service and in shopping for a new car for my wife I have been asking – actually telling – dealerships that if they want to give me a car with a nav system it was going to come out of their pocket and not mine. I don’t need it, don’t want it, and certainly won’t pay for something I am not using and have no confidence that the manufacturer will enhance if I actually do get it.

StockTwits Desktop, Bloomberg on the Cheap

I am a big fan of Howard and Soren, what they have done with StockTwits is both visionary and massively disruptive to the well defended financial news industry. When Howard asked me if I wanted to alpha test their new Desktop application I jumped at the opportunity and when I opened the app for the first time I had one of those rare moments when you are instantly overcome with the realization that what you are looking at can be a really big deal.

Before getting into Desktop, let me first clarify something about StockTwits that is an unfortunate consequence of the name, which is the perception that the service is an extension of Twitter. It’s not, StockTwits is a community powered investor information service that aggregates content from a wide range of sources and presents text, charts, and video content. It’s true that Twitter is a key component and the proliferation of tweets including the “$” + “ticker” format is critical because it’s that content that keys to the additional content services, like SkyGrid, and ensures contextualization of all the content.

Rather than thinking of StockTwits as a virtual room in Twitter, it’s more appropriate to say it is a feature superset of Twitter. The Desktop application realizes this vision by unleashing the user experience, in effect providing something much more like a Bloomberg terminal than a simple activity stream, and not charging you $1,500 a month in the process.

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There are a couple of things you notice right away with StockTwits desktop, the first being that they have enabled a Twitter independent identity and authentication system. This is important because it gives them the ability to enable and enforce a subscription service for not only the core service but also add on content offerings. The latter is critical because many of the better financial news services are pay-to-play and because their price points are steep they artificially constrain their market to hard core traders. StockTwits could enable a micro-payment scheme that would be highly attractive to content providers without requiring them to implement complex payment transaction systems on their own.

Next up you will notice that not everything you message in Desktop shows up in the public twitter timeline, which is because they have enabled an optional cc scheme which makes StockTwits effectively a virtual network within Twitter. I thought this was really interesting because it is taking advantage of Twitter infrastructure in a way that Twitter itself hasn’t and because Twitter has not pre-occupied itself with revenue StockTwits is getting it for free.

Imagine this scenario to see what I mean. Let’s say you went out and bought a container full of cheap Android handsets, wrote your own VoIP application that took advantage of a free API that AT&T was offering, and then went out and started selling cell phones with a low flat monthly fee for all you can eat calling… and AT&T wasn’t getting a dime. That is essentially what StockTwits is doing to Twitter with their Desktop application.

The inclusion of StockTwits TV is important because it again mimics something that Bloomberg has been very effective with. It is no secret that financial news is increasingly tied to broadcast and cable distribution (CNBC, Fox Business, Bloomberg, etc.) which separates this news category from all others, except sports, in that it has several dedicated channels providing real time content. StockTwits TV also provides a platform for advertising monetization with pre/post-roll that is tied to advertisers or complimentary content providers. I found it compelling, even as background noise while I was doing other things.

There are groups, public now but Soren has stated that private groups are on the way, people directory, and watchlist functions but the real meat and potatoes is the detailed timeline and charting features for individual tickers. As more content providers become available this feature set will no doubt become richer which will be certain to give Bloomberg and others a serious case of heartburn.

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