T-Mobile is doing just fine by itself — for now, anyway

A T-Mobile executive recently said a merger with Sprint would be a “logical” move as the U.S. mobile industry continues to consolidate. Now that it can offer the iPhone on a growing LTE network, though, the self-branded “uncarrier” seems to be doing very well on its own.

Airbnb’s regulatory headaches

As Airbnb’s girds for a regulatory fight in New York City, the share economy success story must fight perceptions that its hosts are beginning to operate like unregulated hotels.

Twitter should go private: private Twitter accounts, I mean

There’s a great deal of talk this week about Twitter’s impending $1 billion IPO. And one of the loudest stories being bandied around is that advertisers want Twitter to have a larger audience. The company’s 218 million users is simply not big enough. And the company’s rate of growth has started to slow, falling to 7% in the second quarter, short of the 10%-11% in the previous three quarters.

I am going to make a few recommendations — some of which I have made before, to no avail — that might counter the slowdown in Twitter’s growth trajectory. Some are specific to advertising, but others are simply suggestions for Twitter to move to the ‘near adjacent territory’ of its offering, in ways that would attract more users and higher engagement.

Make hashtags integral — Twitter has never really cottoned to hashtags, and the company continues to treat them as a user-generated bit of microsyntax that is largely not integrated into Twitter’s architecture or offerings. This is a real mistake. Imagine if hashtags were treated instead as first-class metadata in the system, like URLs are, so they would not take up as many characters, as a starter. Also, Twitter could be deriving advertising revenues if they woke up to the potential.

Tumblr does a much better job with its tags, creating curated feeds for many of the most popular, like ‘tech’, ‘design’, ‘fashion’, and ‘photography’. (Although Tumblr foolishly keeps all of this hidden behind its login barrier, so only registered Tumblr users can see them.)

Imagine if Twitter created curated streams for tags like ‘fashion’ and ‘photography’, and charged large sums for Prada and Canon to plaster their come-ons on the walls there. Even something as modest as a conference might be willing to pay a fee to control and curate what’s streaming out on #leweb2013 or #allthingsd.

And hashtags should be followable, in two ways: the way a user follows another, or like a list. They should be moved out of search, and into a directory.

Richer media,  rich tweets — The mechanisms that Twitter has adopted to display linked stories, images, videos and so on should be continued. Again, returning to hashtags, what if Twitters clients allowed this: if I moused over or right-clicked a hashtag in a post, it would show me to see the top five recent posts with that hashtag. And the impediment of 140 characters could be handled by simply deciding to treat what we think of as tweets today as the title, or description, of a bunch of metadata: URLs, hashtags, Retweet history, replies, etc. Also, Twitter could implement the means to add a single chunk of rich text to any tweet, indicated with an asterisk at the end. Let’s call that a rich tweet:

This is how a #richtweet might look, with an asterisk at the end over here*

The implementation would be a simple, rich text editing tool. The obligatory title would become the tweet, and with the rich body it would be something like a blog post. Indeed, Twitter might be well served to implement additional blog-like functionality, like an RSS feed, themes (like Tumblr), and an obvious URL convention so that people could see a user’s rich tweets, like www.twitter.com/stoweboyd/rich.

Rich tweets would be a strong counter to Google+, Blogger, and Tumblr, and I am certain this would increase engagement.

Private Twitter — Twitter is one large namespace, with everything defaulting to the open follower model. And that is a wonderful thing. However, sometimes people want to communicate behind closed doors, and the only mechanism for doing that in Twitter is direct messaging, a feature that is extremely limited and not very Twitter like. DMs are one-to-one communications only, and don’t ‘feel’ like streams as a result. (Twitter should implement group private messaging, for a monthly fee, too.)

I propose that Twitter consider the implementation of private twitter domains, which would be either for-fee or advertiser-supported. The functionality would allow a business, for example, to use a twitter subdomain — like adjectivenoun.twitter.com — to which users would have to be invited, or perhaps gain access by confirmation of a company email address ([email protected], for example).

Note that by default, every user would discover (on the day they turned the service on) that they possessed a private twitter subdomain — like stoweboyd.twitter.com — based on their existing user Twitter handle. They could opt not to do anything with it, or to start using it.

The owner of the account would be able to invite others to join, or turn on company email address verification. Once logged in, users would be able to connect and communicate with other co-workers using the standard open follower model, use and follow hashtags (as discussed above), and best yet, create project- or group-oriented contexts that could be private to those invited. This would allow Twitter to compete in the enterprise social network market, where it already has a toehold.

Most businesses would opt for a for-fee use, since that would give them administrative controls. But small businesses, non-profits, and freelancers might decide to simply see ads streaming by occasionally, or plastered on the walls of their streams.

(There are also immediate opportunities for the cross-communication of private and open Twitter, too complex to develop here, but that would represent an area for other marketing and customer-facing services, as well.)

Twitter as a platform — If in fact Twitter undertook the private domain route as described above, another interesting angle could arise to make money for Twitter. They could create an app store, so that files of various types could be associated with applications that users could ‘download’ into their private domains. So, if the administrator of adjectivenoun.twitter.com wanted to use a particular tool for shared whiteboards, he could so stipulate. And then, whenever company members created a shared whiteboard, and posted the link in a Tweet, others could click on the link to open it in the same shared whiteboard tool.

And, as before, some of the tool vendors might opt for an advertising approach, so YouTube-style ads might run along the bottom of the shared whiteboard app for some length of time, or the folks at AdjectiveNoun might opt to pay a small monthly fee to see the ads go away.

I may have gone on too long, but the point is clear. Twitter has a big upside potential for advertising-in-the-open associated with hashtags, which to date they have not exploited well.  But I think there is just as large an opportunity in private Twitter, both for ad-supported and for-fee private Twitter accounts, if they have the desire and vision to pursue it.



TV goes mobile

The existing TV ecosystem rests on two revenue pillars: advertising and distribution (i.e. carriage and retransmission) fees. Cracking the incumbents hold on the system will requiring disrupting or undermining one or both of those revenue streams.

Will your public cloud provider still be in business 5 years from now?

So, will your cloud provider be around in 5 years? Most of the larger players will still be here, with a few exceptions. However, the smaller players may find themselves part of a larger player, or, they will still battle on alone, or perhaps be out-of-business. We just need to make sure to build these outcomes into our cloud computing plans, which is perhaps no different than how we dealt with other emerging technologies in the past. However, the as-a-service aspect of cloud computing services raises the stakes on the risks and the costs.

Real disruption is here in mobile. And it’s growing

The U.S. mobile industry is largely built on users willing to pay outrageous fees and sign pricey service contracts in exchange for buying subsidized handsets. But some innovative companies are leveraging new technologies and strategies to bring more consumer-friendly offerings to market.

Coming soon to an operating system near you: file sync-and-share

Last week, Evernote announced a new product, Evernote for Salesforce (see Evernote for Salesforce announced), which connects the popular document repository platform with the post popular CRM application. This is interesting for more than the first-order effects, the benefits to Salesforce and Evernote users. It’s it the most recent example of a rising trend, in which the new architecture of work management will be based on the dynamic that all work is distributed and social.

Consider the emergence of solutions like Evernote — a tool for people to collect snippets of information, links, scribblings, images, scans of business cards — and to store and organize them in ways personally relevant to the user, using tags, folders, and naming conventions. These can be synced across all a user’s devices, and shared with others in later versions, like Evernote for Business. This is paralleled by the rise of other not dissimilar tools like Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, Hightail, and so on, that support the syncing and sharing of files — created by whatever other tools — across what amounts to be a virtual, distributed operating system.

The emergence of these tools is actually the backpatching of a flaw in our operating systems, which are still based on the 20th century premise of a local file system, and relative ignorance of the web. Smarts about the web is not built into the operating systems on our laptops and desktop computers, although those on our companion devices are somewhat more web-savvy. But they all force the user to wrestle with files as if they are fixed, and not distributed across devices. We leave that to specialized applications, who compete for our trade, and who have created a divided world of contending distributed virtual file systems.

One of my earliest programming projects in grad school was to create a hierarchical file system on some truly ancient computer that Boston University had lying around. Imagine: the native file system was a single flat namespace. So I programmed a file directory, allowing folders and nesting. And then I and others were able to create modern style programs for that machine. Basically, I backpatched a logical flaw in the operating system.

And that’s what Evernote, and the others are doing. They are constructing programs that allow users to operate as if files, notes, images, and so on are being managed in a giant distributed file system, one that sits at the center of our world of work (and play, too), and where the dumbness of today’s operating systems can be overlooked, to a degree.

The major vendors of operating systems — Apple, Microsoft, and Google — have entered this marketplace in recent years, and are parroting the offerings that these other newcomers have dreamed up. Google Drive, Apple iCloud, and Microsoft Skydrive offer somewhat contrasting approaches which in the final analysis are competitors. But what they should do, and what they will inevitably get around to doing, is to build file sync-and-share capabilities into the operating systems.

Consider a not-too-far-in-the-future versions of OS X, in which iCloud is no longer an app, but a set of low-level capabilities. For example, I can create a folder (in a future version of the Finder), and simply share that folder with other people from my Contacts, or indicate that I want this folder synced with my other devices. In those cases, other people and other devices would receive notifications about their ability to access that folder. The next time I turn on my not-too-far-in-the-future iPhone, the synchronization of that folder would start running in the background.

And what if my device was an Android tablet instead of an iPhone? Obviously, the various operating systems would have to interoperate. They won’t at first, but ultimately they will. And then, Evernote would be relegated to being a relatively minimal editing tool sitting on top of the vast distributed file system implemented by iOS, Android, Chrome, and Windows. And the market share for Box, Dropbox, Hightail, and the other file sync-and-share apps would collapse, although a few of them would likely be acquired to become the plumbing for Apple, Google, and Microsoft implementations.

Most people can’t remember back to the time when email services couldn’t intercommunicate, but I can. And they also don’t recall when Mac and MS-DOS file systems were incompatible, so that a Windows formatted floppy couldn’t be opened on a Mac.

In a strange way, we’ve come all the way around to this, a return to a world of silos. You’re using Google Drive to share folders with me, but I want to use Box, and another friend is sharing files from Evernote.

Building this into the OS’s will also mean that they become social at their core. They’d be implementing one of the most important aspects of our social networks: the network defined by who we share files with. (And presumably, we want to share comments about those documents, and a stream of updates about what’s in those documents, and… you get the picture: social operating systems would be next.)

The first operating system vendor to bake these capabilities into their OS is going to gain a serious market advantage in the business space. Imagine I could more easily share — securely and reliably — files with my coworkers in a way that also guaranteed back-up and recovery, and it did so in a way that could be managed both by the individual (for personal files) and by company administrators (for business files). Why haven’t Google, Apple, and Microsoft implemented this yet?

Home-brewed TV Everywhere

Unlike Jeff Bewkes’ original vision for TV Everywhere, in which all new use-cases for TV content would be discretely licensed, the courts are carving out a growing list of use-cases that do not need to be licensed.

Why BlackBerry should ‘license’ its OS for free

Fairfax Financial is leading a consortium looking to acquire BlackBerry for roughly $4.7 billion. If the group truly keeps BlackBerry intact, it should try to expand the lineup of BlackBerry 10 devices by letting other manufacturers build supporting devices without paying licensing fees.