Facebook expanding in all directions

If you’re a subscriber to Ben Thompson’s Stratechery blog, then you may have seen his daily update this morning discussing Facebook’s announcement that it will begin hosting news sites’ content. As usual, Ben’s analysis is spot-on, as is his observation that BuzzFeed is way out ahead. From the NYT:

With 1.4 billion users, the social media site has become a vital source of traffic for publishers looking to reach an increasingly fragmented audience glued to smartphones. In recent months, Facebook has been quietly holding talks with at least half a dozen media companies about hosting their content inside Facebook rather than making users tap a link to go to an external site…

Facebook intends to begin testing the new format in the next several months, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions. The initial partners are expected to be The New York Times, BuzzFeed and National Geographic, although others may be added since discussions are continuing. The Times and Facebook are moving closer to a firm deal, one person said.

Considered in context with my post yesterday about what Facebook could – and perhaps is – doing with its payments service, I find this particularly interesting.


Some thoughts on payments

coinsI’ve written about payments quite a bit lately – in both my newsletter last night as well as in one two weeks ago. Between the rapid expansion of Apple Pay and announcements by its would-be competitors (if you want to call them that), Android Pay and Samsung Pay, all of the major platform providers are attempting to hone in on this lucrative market. Further up the stack, software-defined services are attempting to do the same, offering cross-platform universality: PayPal/Venmo, of course, and now Snap Cash (which is really Square Cash), and (finally) Facebook payments.

Unless you’ve been paying close attention, it’s easy to get confused by all of these new payment methods. Which are peer-to-peer? What do I use in a store? How do I just pay the damned dog sitter?

It seems to me that too many people think of payments in a strictly traditional sense: like writing someone else a check, which is how many of us have long used PayPal. That was probably fine for a time, but I think that era is over. It’s time to broaden how we think of payments to fit the age of social.

Read more

Three charts that explain “omnichannel”

If you’re a retail industry executive, these are the kinds of charts that keep you up at night.

Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 1.04.27 PM

U.S. consumers, particularly younger ones, are spending much less time in malls and in physical stores. Store foot traffic has been dropping for years, which is subsequently putting pressure on merchandise productivity and comparable store sales – which have generally been pretty dreary in the physical retail sector.

For retailers, though, the bad news doesn’t stop there. The decline in store traffic accompanies a slow but steady long-term shift in consumer tastes away from retail staples like apparel and towards other consumables like food, digital media (ex. music, games/apps) and personal electronics:

Read more

Rise of the Unicorns

unicornIt’s been something of a running theme over the last ten years, particularly in the blogosphere and social media, to declare that blogging is doomed. With the closure of Andrew Sullivan’s iconic blog, this debate has been spun up once again: Ezra Klein bemoaning the decline of the blog in the era of the social web, and Ben Thompson pointing out that his own recent success with Stratechery is a counterexample of “Blogging’s Bright Future.”

I think the rise of Stratechery actually provides some interesting lessons to anyone paying attention to the future of business models in journalism, blogging and the web generally. But as so often with new media, the medium is often confused with the product. Talking about the success or failure of blogging itself is a little like arguing about whether the smartphone “works” for whatever one wants to use it for. Blogging actually works pretty well for some goals, and less so for others.

Rather, a more interesting question might be – what will blogging be used for in the future, and importantly, who (if anyone) will pay for it? These are the kinds of questions that cleave blogging away from the future of journalism, I believe, and more towards… whatever you want to call what Ben is doing. Indeed, I’m inclined to agree with Klein: blogging is still a pretty crappy business model, and it’s certainly not a viable future for journalism.

But then, who ever said blogging has to be about journalism?

Read more

The Once and Future King

OzymandiasIn the last two weeks since my post Whither, IBM?, the company has announced predictably dismal Q4 and FY 2014 results, gone through another round of layoffs, and given its top executives (including the CEO) a raise anyway. As we begin 2015, I want to follow up on my last post (which, due to an outbreak of social shares, has quickly become one of my most-viewed ever) to provide a little more detail on why IBM must transform – and how.

Here are three mega-trends happening right now in technology:

  1. Software is now reaching everyone, everywhere
  2. Commoditizing hardware markets have intensified the value of software
  3. Software is enabling massive disruption of established markets

Any one of these would be a major challenge to IBM as the company is constituted today; taken as a group, they collectively represent nothing less than a dagger pointed at the beating heart of Big Blue. The problem is not simply that the company has now missed multiple successive technology cycles, and the growth opportunities they represented; rather, it’s that the leadership of IBM has only very recently woken up to the fact that those cycles existed at all.

Let me explain how each of these challenges is a problem for IBM.

Read more

Whither, IBM?

In the weeks since I resigned from IBM, I’ve been trying to organize my thoughts on the future of the company. A few recent developments have helped crystallize the points I want to make: first, there’s been a spate of high-level departures from the company, some public (12) and many others which I’ve just heard about through the grapevine. Second, rumors about a major reorganization have surfaced in the tech press, reflecting widespread rumblings within IBM itself. These developments are related, but are only properly understood with a clear picture of what’s going on at IBM as a whole.


The Computing Tabulating Recording Company.

IBM is a company in transition – both by choice and not. Its sprawling size, century-old legacy and multitudes of business lines make this transition noisy, messy and very public. Changing strategies for IBM involves breaking a lot of conceptual models that a lot of people have held about the company for many years, perhaps no where more so than in the financial community. This is one of the reasons why much the mainstream coverage of IBM is highly simplistic, ill-informed, or flat-out wrong. (Indeed, that could describe a lot of what finance people write about tech.)

I remain a true believer in IBM. I have faith that the company will find its way again, and that IBM will still be selling to our grandchildren one day. But in the meantime, there’s a lot of soul-searching to be done. In the last several months (and particularly since the crappy Q3 results were released), there’s been something of a dogpile of criticism of the company, much of which is unfair. So here I’m going to try to offer some more thoughtful criticism on how the company can find its way again.

Edit, 11/23: I’ve added an update since the Q4/FY 2014 results were announced.

Read more

The state of digital analytics in 2015

Thinking through the recent Andreessen-Horowitz investment in Mixpanel has got me thinking about the overall economics of the digital analytics industry over the past few days. (Plus, my wife and I finished all of The Americans, so unless I get back to re-watching Battlestar Galactica over the holiday before season 4 of GoT hits iTunes, there’s nothing good on TV.)

As I’ve said before, I believe that digital analytics is a foundational business tool for any modern enterprise, and what we’re seeing in almost every industry today is a divergence between those companies that have evolved to embed this technology into their strategy and execute on it, and those that have not. Digital analytics – web, mobile, and the like – enables and complements all sorts of marketing and ecommerce technologies that are now table stakes for a competitive business, which puts the analytics vendor itself in an incredibly valuable strategic position. No wonder, then, that competition is so heated.


I’m going to take stock of the digital analytics vendor landscape as it stands at the beginning of 2015, make a few predictions about where it’s heading, and then circle back to the a16z-Mixpanel thing, because it’s a real head-scratcher. And it makes sense to start by talking about the two biggest names in enterprise digital marketing – Adobe and Google. In that order.

Read more


demandwareI resigned from IBM last week. My last day as a Big Blue employee will be in the next week or so, and in the new year, I’ll be moving into a senior role at Demandware leading the company’s large enterprise accounts initiative.

coreAs I told my colleagues internally this week, I’ve been very proud to be an IBMer, and to work on Coremetrics. My resignation was a little surreal, actually – I was in the Bay Area for a team meeting, and had “the talk” with my manager in the very same conference room where John Squire hired me years ago. So things have really come full circle.

I’ve been collecting my thoughts about IBM and its future, which I’ll probably wrap into a blog post at some point here soon. But for now, I don’t anticipate any big shift in the focus area for this blog – marketing tech, ecommerce, and how people buy stuff on the interwebs remains my interest area.

I’ll be staying here in North Carolina, but coming up to Boston fairly frequently. If you’re in the area, let’s hang out!


Marketing to normals

My wife and I held our annual holiday party last weekend for a few dozen close friends. As usual, it was awesome: Southern cocktails, homemade treats, a nice fire going, two dogs and a decked-out tree. Good times. Over some drinks, I took the opportunity to conduct a totally unscientific poll about something I was curious about – the mobile commerce behavior of our friends. Specifically, I wanted to know: do you actually buy stuff on your phone?

phoneThe reason I asked was because of a weird pattern I’d seen while trawling through the annual ecommerce reporting data from the Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend. According to IBM, on Cyber Monday, roughly 1 in 10 online sales was on a smartphone, with an average order value of approximately $100. ($100!) Nor was this an outlier – similar figures were cited by Adobe Digital Index and comScore.

The idea that some people are not only actually shopping for stuff on their iPhones (the percentage of sales on Android devices is far lower), but also spending quite a bit of money on them, honestly mystifies me. I don’t understand the use case at all. Yet – the data is there, and I’m not one to argue with hard evidence. This paradox has gotten me thinking quite a bit about the ongoing fragmentation of paths to purchase, and what it means for 2014’s emerging marketing buzzword: customer journeys.

Read more