Apple Pay – and the missing link in mobile payments

apple payWhat Apple unveiled at their big September 9th event was, without hyperbole, revolutionary. I’m not talking about the watch (I remain a skeptic there). I mean Apple Pay, the company’s new mobile payments service.

Let me go on record: Apple Pay is a big, huge deal. Most of the early reviews/criticism have focused primarily on its applications for in-store purchases (and indeed, Tim Cook cited big retailers like Disney, Macy’s, McDonald’s, Whole Foods and, of course, Apple itself as examples), but the real implications – and biggest value – of Apple Pay actually go much, much further than that.

Apple Pay really represents Apple’s strongest move yet into online commerce and identity brokerage. It’s a sharp elbow in the ribs of Google and Facebook (in different ways), and a beautiful example of some of the smartest strategy in the industry. It’s also a clear call to action for merchants and marketers: true mobile commerce is nearly here. Start getting ready. Now.

More after the jump.

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How SaaS is driving remote working

punchI recently wrote a post about how SaaS and mobile technology have completely changed the landscape for enterprise productivity. It’s just another example of how “software is eating the world” – in that case, untethering the means of “doing work” from traditional modalities (like a perpetual license OS and hardware stack). What I want to talk about today is how we’ve effectively untethered productivity not only from how it used to be done, but also, increasingly, where.

In the last several years, we’ve seen tremendous growth in cloud-based productivity software: everything from CRM to marketing tech to bread-and-butter tools like word processing and spreadsheets. This is opening up new use cases that just weren’t possible before, driving prices down, and drastically changing the way many organizations collaborate. But it has also had another effect whose impact has just begun: changing the way companies think about localized office environments, versus remote working.

In the same way that industrial-era concepts like “punching the time card” or “being on your lunch break” don’t really fit the reality of the world many of us live in today, the traditional office-worker model is quickly tracking towards obsolescence. The arguments for it are mostly driven by executives’ traditional cultural choices rather than business requirements – not unlike wearing a suit and tie to the office used to be. In the same way, I believe we’re living in the twilight days of the centralized office working model.

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“So where do we begin?”

Even for major vendors, the marketing technology space can seem like a confusing place sometimes.

roadBroadly speaking, I see ever-increasing numbers of three types of “martech” vendors: highly focused point solutions; mostly point solutions whose marketing overstates what their solution specializes in; and the truly integrated suites. Vendor name recognition increases accordingly: in the first category, you have all of these guys (good luck keeping track). By the end, you’re left with the familiar names: Adobe, IBM, Salesforce, Oracle, etc. (Check out my high-level tally of big vendor acquisitions.) Keeping track of who does what has become harder and harder.

Every year, more and more companies realize they’re outgrowing their basic tools and want to explore what else is possible to elevate their marketing; or they want to improve or change strategy in a specific tactical area. But the cacophony of marketing tech vendors results in both confusion and paralysis of analysis, and it’s generally a mess. Leaders in these companies often have a simple, common sense question: “where do we begin?”

I’m going to propose an answer to that question.

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Happy Labor Day

I spent most of last week hiking Glacier National Park with one of my best friends. Here are a couple of pictures we shot. Two things:

  • If you are one of those people who does not take “real” vacations – meaning a week or more at a time – I would urge you to do so. It does wonders for your personal health and perspective.
  • Go see Glacier National Park. I can confirm that it truly is “the shining jewel of America.” Simply incredible.

Pictures after the break.

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To blog, or not to blog?

Should your company blog?

Probably not. But like anything, it depends.


Corporate blogs have sort of become one of the new table stakes for any company trying to seriously “do digital,” particularly in the software field. (Particularly in the marketing tech space. I’m looking around at all of you folks.) It’s easy to see why. A company blog has a sort of no-brainer quality to it: after all, a blog is fast and cheap, if not free, to set up, has an enormous potential audience, and is a simple way of getting new information out… right?

Free… enormous audience… simple. Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, indeed it is. In reality, what I’ve found is that all of those descriptors deserve a big, fat asterisk attached. In fact, I’m becoming less and less convinced that corporate blogging is a good idea for a lot of companies, both big and small – including many marketing tech vendors. Hear me out as I explain why.

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The shared digital future of media

If you’ve kept up with the slow-moving implosion of the journalism industry over the last several years, it’s hard not to think you’re seeing the same story set on repeat. “Dead-tree media” publications seem to spin endlessly through a death spiral of shrinking subscriptions and advertising rates, leading to editorial cuts, contributing to crappier content, which leads to shrinking subscriptions and ad rates, and… so on and so forth into utter irrelevancy.

dead tree

The old giants of journalism are being slowly picked apart by digital native competitors like BuzzFeed, Vox, the HuffPo and more generally by the constellations of blogs (woohoo!) and independent websites out there as well. This is part and parcel of a broader, tectonic shift in how our wired society accesses, consumes and even creates “news” that is driven in large part by new technology.

I wrote a while back about how many legacy brick-and-mortar retailers are struggling with the rise of digital commerce. Today, I want to talk about how the same is happening in media and journalism, because many of the same dynamics apply: namely, institutional inertia, failures of leadership, and a misunderstanding of how central digital analytics are to a competitive media enterprise are steadily winnowing the field by basic natural selection.

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The pitfalls and promise of and Project Loon


The next billion internet users. (Picture from Cameroon)

My first career, before I got into technology, was in international development. I spent two years as a Peace Corps health and water sanitation volunteer in south Cameroon, followed by several more working as a project manager for a number of USAID-funded health workforce programs in South Sudan, Kenya and Vietnam. I still maintain a lot of ties to the development community, and remain personally aware of what the “digital divide” really means and looks like for the majority of the world today.

It is thus with keen interest that I’ve kept tabs on tech industry “goodwill” initiatives for the developing world – in particular, Facebook-led and Google’s Project Loon. These two projects have many noble aims in common: broadly, in Facebook’s words, bringing internet connectivity to “the two-thirds of the world’s population that doesn’t have it.” If you watch the high-gloss YouTube marketing videos for each respective project, it’s hard not to get a little starry-eyed at the gee-whiz technology they employ.

Unfortunately, the understandable enthusiasm around these projects has totally outpaced their feasibility. The keystone components of each – exotic new airborne platforms to beam internet down upon the earth – are sheer technologist fantasy. Improving connectivity in the developing world is happening, and several “new billion” users are waiting to access the digital world – but very little of that will have anything to do with either Google or Facebook. Here’s why.

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Quick favor to ask for SXSW 2015


Click to see details

Hi there. I’d like to ask for your vote for my proposed session at South by Southwest Interactive 2015.

If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, you’ll know that I write about issues in online privacy a lot. The tension between our ever more connected world and traditional conceptions of privacy are in inevitable conflict – just as they have been with technologies in the past.

I spoke at South by Southwest Interactive last year on the question, “Do consumers really care about online privacy?” My answer was, and remains: mostly not. When you look at actual patterns of consumer behavior, they demonstrate an appetite for more sharing of personal data, less concern for who sees it, and total incoherence in attitudes towards online measurement – which mostly stem from a total lack of knowledge.

This year, I proposed another session for SXSW. It’s entitled “Moving On: What the Future of Privacy Looks Like.” I see it as a natural segue to the debates we’re having today, and it’s my attempt to move the discussion forward.

Privacy will continue to be a sort of parlor game debate for many in the tech community, but out in the real world, people have moved on. We’re rushing into a shared digital future, one of the themes of this blog, in which our traditional views on privacy just won’t be relevant, let alone tenable, anymore. The basic issues have pretty much been settled. Some jurisdictions, like much of the EU, are essentially opting out, likely at the cost of much potential growth and innovation for startups there. Other jurisdictions, like the U.S. and much of East Asia, are plowing ahead.

So the question becomes: what does that future look like for us? What is a viable conception of personal privacy in the world we’re headed into?

I have some predictions, and also some questions to pose, in this proposed session. But first, I need to get to SXSW!

Here’s the link to click: Moving On: What the Future of Privacy Looks Like

thumbsOnce there, you’ll need to create a SXSW PanelPicker account. Then, just click the thumbs-up on my session page. Shares/comments are always appreciated, of course.

Thanks! I really appreciate your support.



The future of enterprise productivity, and breaking down walls

I’ve been thinking about the implications of this chart over the last few days:


Credit: (click for link)

The author, QZ’s Dan Frommer, has neatly encapsulated a growing theory among the digerati; namely, that a host of next-generation companies, offering wholly new approaches to productivity in the workplace based on cross-platform SaaS software, are slowly disrupting entrenched legacy firms like Microsoft, SAP and IBM in large enterprises. According to this argument, these quicker, nimbler competitors – best exemplified by Google, but also including firms like Amazon, Dropbox, Square, Tableau, and perhaps soon even Facebook – “grew up” on the web and often began in the consumer space with freemium models, only to pivot into the enterprise space after many of their users had already begun using their products there.

There are certain obvious caveats to QZ’s chart above. For example, email is a thoroughly commoditized product, and scales very well in a way that most categories of productivity software do not. Nevertheless, it presents some interesting questions:

  • How do traditionally perpetual license-based software companies transition to a world rapidly turning to mobile and SaaS-based solutions?
  • SaaS and cross-platform solutions are broadening the traditional market scope that vendors can effectively target – i.e. previously SMB-focused vendors can increasingly sell successfully into big companies as well. Do legacy “enterprise” focused companies like the ones above need to begin targeting the mid-market more aggressively? If so, how do they do that?

In some way, these are questions that tech industry icons like IBM, Microsoft, SAP and Oracle, who have built empires around providing technology solutions and services, are all grappling with today. Here are a few thoughts of my own.

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The so-called commoditization of digital analytics

Usually, when we talk about “commodities” in technology, what we mean are services whose price point has been relentlessly driven down over time, if not simply offered for free. In different ways, email, search and cloud storage have all fit this pattern: while differentiation between competing products exists, vendors only have pricing power in a few very, very niche pools of those markets (ex. super-secure email).


A couple of true commodities.

It has become common to relegate digital analytics platforms to this category as well. I believe this is a mistake caused by incorrectly conflating use cases. Rather than commoditizing, digital analytics as a technology is inherently expandable – indeed, expanding – to new, higher-value applications that resist the downward pressure towards “free.” Indeed, this is one of the major reasons why digital analytics platforms have emerged as a foundational component of the major marketing solutions out there today. They are completely central to the future of marketing.

So what’s with all the talk about analytics as a commodity?

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