Monthly Archives: August 2008

California is #42

As some of you already know, I like to dig into the numbers. Not financials and budgets per se, but demographics and adoption trends. For firstly a marketeers’ task is to persuade the audience of inevitabilities; not that the world can be different, but it will be. That success is inevitable despite insurmountable odds. It is simply the epitome of selling hope in a bottle.

One cannot ignore the ever growing adoption of Facebook, especially in the teen audience. When will it’s success become “inevitable?”

I’ve been following the age distribution of Facebook for the past few years and in particular the teen crown; given I have two kids in that demographic. One question that did intrigue me was geographic differences: what state have the highest per capita adoption of Facebook among? I did some digging and the numbers are surprising.

So which states comprise the top 10 in per capita usage of Facebook by teens? High-tech hotbeds like California, Texas, North Carolina, Washington or Virginia? No, the highest rank of these states is Virginia at #18.

The top ten in order are: District of Columbia, South Dakota, Connecticut, Missouri, Kansas, Massachusetts, Arkansas, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and New Jersey. The list above is Virginia (#18), North Carolina (#25), Texas (#37), Washington (#39) and California (#42).

Think things are weird? Per capita, Kansas has nearly three times more teens on Facebook compared to California. Think that’s a rural thing? Not so. Massachusetts boasts similar numbers compared to California.

The chart shows off the results. Darker colors indicate highest adoption, lighter colors lower. Enjoy. If you’d like the spredsheet with the numbers, leave a comment

How to be a Rebel, Just Like Me

While I like to think my personality is both delightful and charming, occasionally it seems people think I’m just being a rebel. Sightings happen both in my personal and professional life and although I am not always consistent with my demeanor I certainly don’t try to be difficult – at least all the time. So here are my tips on how you can be a rebel just like me.

#1 Be right. One could soften this and simply striving to be only opinionated but I don’t think that completely nails it; you must confidently and consistently be right. I normally (there are exceptions) mull things over privately for a long time. I play devil’s advocate with myself, try to see things impartially, view a situation from many different angles, reflect on what I’ve observed thus far and anticipate what might happen. Then I take a position. And once I’ve taken a stand I require solid reasoned argument to refute it. There are many times I can recall of admitting my error but I can also recount many far many more times where I stood alone and to this day know I was dead right.

#2 Ask people to pick. I’ve noticed this issue most frequently with managers I’ve worked for in my professional life. Very often in business you are faced with competing priorities and limited resources. My strategy for these situations has been to reassess goals and choose the objectives which can be achieved while deliberately choosing to not work those which are not achievable. More often than not, you have to pick, and it seems people don’t always like to have to do that. And worse, some have the habit of reminding me of the things not accomplished to which I remind them we made a conscience choice to not do them.

#3 Work for the company, not your boss. While we are on the topic of work, one of my favorite pieces of advice given to me during a performance review was, “Mike, remember you work your boss, not the company.” He was right but I have never been able to fully digest this concept. I always go back to “what would the shareholders think?” Being a manager is no assurance of right-minded thinking, clairvoyant nature nor sound decision-making abilities; I know, I’ve been one. I’ve only worked for a few command and control type managers and thankfully for all parties affected it was short.

#4 Challenge conventional wisdom. In part due to the pace of modern life, to stay ahead of the pack it is an imperative to challenge conventional wisdom. I’d like to believe one of the reasons I have found a home in the technology industry is that the soul of this industry is about proving people wrong. The conventional wisdom is “it can’t be done” and all I can think is “like hell, watch this.” Go to nearly any meeting in corporate America and you can see the effectiveness of conventional thinking in action. Too often organizations do something based on the momentum of the group but I like to challenge commonly held beliefs.

#5 Playing the contrarian. It is not in my genes to be a lemming so instinctively I take to the opposite position of most groups. When there is optimism I can often be found to be pessimistic; where there is despair I’m the first to find hope. I don’t know why I’m like this, I just am. There is a method to my madness. I’d like to believe having protagonists in a group makes the group better.

So there’s my list. Do people think you’re a rebel too?

Has Apple Done it Again?

Let me start out admitting I’m a total Apple homer. I worked at the fruit company a digital lifetime ago but still consider it one of the better jobs over my 20+ year career. While I still haven’t broken down and bought an AppleTV I’ve certainly pacified my fetish for Apple gear most recently with an iPhone 3G. Over the past week I’ve started to ask myself the question, “has Apple done it again?” Has Apple reinvented the software business the same way it did for music?

We all know the story about digital music and the iPod. I’m sure there are many angles to take on this one; the piracy story, the compression story, the record-label view, the artist view, the consumer and on and on, but I think it’s easy to argue the iPod saved the music industry. Yes, musicians and their handlers hate to admit it, but I know more people who, after buying an iPod, have bought more music than they had on their own without an iPod for years – or in my case decades. A buck is easy and often times it’s an impulse buy. How else can I explain buying The Knack’s “My Sharona”? (If you didn’t graduate high school around 1980 you won’t get it). It also helps the model let’s you buy only exactly what you want – not the industry-preferred packaging of albums.

And another funny thing happened. Today, even a good many of the teens I know are going legal as opposed to downloading ripped music from illegal file sharing sites. Apple made it easy to be legal, provided value over a free download with things like cover art, and simplified the process with the iTunes store and gift cards. What’s the standard birthday gift for a teen these days? A gift card to the iTunes store.

I can still hear the music industry complaining – but I ask, “where would they be without the iPod?”

So let’s now turn our attention to the computer software industry. Today, MS-Office withstanding, most folks rarely buy software these days. More and more free shareware and web-based tools are becoming available online so dropping more than $20 on an unknown feels like a real gamble. I know the velocity of the packaged software industry of 2008 is radically different from a decade ago.

In some ways you can see parallels between the historical software and music industries: (1) their packaging strategy is customer-hostile, (2) market consolidation was bad for consumers and (3) they both have unnecessarily long (non)value-add chains. Let me explain.

Both industries have pursued a packaging strategy that is customer-hostile. To buy the single song we wanted, we had to buy the entire album. Similarly, in the software business to get the 10% of a program we really need we have to buy 80% we don’t want and will never use. Of course this strategy was pursued to increase margin through perceived value: the hardware delivery cost for one or ten songs was the same so why not bundle a bunch of stuff together and charge more?

More and more, there are only a few big record labels just like software vendors. Once you get past Microsoft and Adobe who else is out there? And what do they do about packaging? You can hardly afford to buy a standalone version of their products since bundling makes them more attractive. Fewer market-makers leads to fewer choices which means bigger profits for those who are left.

And finally, both industries built a wide chasm between the “artist” and the “buyer”. The infrastructure necessary to successfully run a package software business, or that of a record label are sizable. You have distributors and resellers to pay-off. You have gatekeepers to the market like radio stations and product reviewers. You need to market, sell and support these complex products and supply chains; and of course, everyone wants to get paid along the way. In the end the artist or developer got whatever was leftover.

Now, last month, we get the $0.99 software program – enter the App Store for the iPhone. It was an epiphany for me. Here on my phone, while I’m idling away a spare five minutes someplace I can find a little “one-hit wonder” of a software program, download and pay for it in a matter of seconds all for less than the price of soft drink at my local convenience store. If it doesn’t work out, so what? It was only a buck. Shamelessly I have to admit it, I have purchased more software (for me, not work) in the last week than I have in the last five years. And I love it.

Has Apple done it again? Did Apple reinvent the software business? We’re not even close yet but I see the signs pointing an interesting direction. What does it mean for ad-based business models? What does it mean to software development overall? Do we just go and build really tightly targeted apps and sell them for a buck with the developer keeping 70 cents on the dollar for each product sold? Why not? Hmmm… gotta run and go download the iPhone SDK.