Web measurement must be free and transparent

In the recent history of technology, success is not often related to superior performance. Take MS-DOS for instance, it dominated the operating systems of personal computing because it was the only one available at a key moment of the evolution of the PC and secured by an exclusive license between Bill Gates and IBM. (Had Darwin been at work, we probably would have ended with something better, but a clever entrepreneur, son of a prominent Seattle attorney, and his own lawyers were running the show at the time). There are others example, like the stupid keyboard which I’m using to write the MondayNote. The positions of the keys descend from a layout designed to actually slow down typing on mechanical machines. At the time, typewriters were unable to keep up with the dexterity of typists. Now we have spell checking software correcting mistakes as we type, but we’re stuck with the unpractical keyboard. In that instance, no contract is responsible, simply the weight of the habits, and the equally heavy burden of the backward compatibility of education (I don’t see a company buying, all of a sudden, Dvorak keyboard for its people, even though any PC or Mac can handle it).

Let’s come back to this century and talk about measuring website audiences. We are witnessing the same growing dominance of a system without regard to its performance. In this case, the system is Nielsen. A truly imperfect technology, to put it nicely, but widely adopted by the advertising community.

Two systems: To measure the audience of a website, you have user-centric and site-centric systems. Nielsen falls into the first category. It relies on the old, unreliable process long in use for television (that’s Nielsen’s DNA, actually). It is based on a panels of people periodically queried on their viewing habits. Perfect to assess the number of Joe-six-packs
on their couches watching a football game, but totally unfit for the Internet. It would be like, in a biology lab, asking lab mice how they feel, instead of counting cell divisions in a Petri dish. Site-centric measurement is the Petri dish and the real “quant” analysis. Basically, software that follows the users when they land on your site. What they see, for how long, all with increasingly sophisticated data reduction and display interfaces. There are many of vendors, competition is fierce. In the early days of the Internet, these systems where prone to some amount of cheating. But order prevailed quickly. Now, most are certified and no serious player would dare tampering with its stats system.

Now, let’s compare performance. Where site-centric measurements happen in real time, the relevant data released by Nielsen are published monthly. Yep, monthly. Like in the good old days of broadcast radio. On the top of that, Nielsen websites look like a social security database in the Soviet era. Rows and columns, no comparison tools, clunky features, bugged like a Louisiana swamp. You have to perform tedious exports to Excel files (friends even sent me screen captures!) to perform the analysis that a good Ajax-based website would perform in a split second with graphics ready to be exported in any document or presentation.

As a result, website operators are like the owner of a sweatshop in the garment district: they rely on two sets of books. The official one — in that instance the approximate Nielsen monthly data to feed the ad market — and the unofficial, precise one. Because to add insult to injury, the results of the two systems differ widely: when you have 1 million unique visitors on Nielsen, your internal stat analysis tools will probably yield 1.5m or 2.3m depending upon where your site tends to be visited the most (at work or at home).

How come such a lousy system became the standard in the advertising business? Two possible answers. First, the site-centric players were a bit slow to organize themselves. And when they did, it was too late. Second : it’s a question of culture. The advertising sector is (still) dominated by the TV/radio mentality — a Nielsen fiefdom. Therefore, when Nielsen came saying “let us to bring order to Web stats, it’ll be a piece of cake”, nobody questioned that statement. Now, because Nielsen is a powerhouse in the media buying milieu, we are stuck with that company. (Other reasons combine the usual laziness and conservatism).

How will it evolve? Again two (tentative) answers. The first is generational. I would bet that the upcoming generation of Web publishers will be more committed to transparency in terms of audience and basic data. (That’s not the case for print media executives, they were unbeatable at constantly misleading the ad market with bogus audience figures. Now, facing the Internet era, they are paying the hard price). The second factor is called Google. A year ago, it introduced Google Analytics, a great site-centric stats system — available for free at a click near you — that an increasing number of site are using in tandem with their usual tool set. They did the same with MeasureMap, a tool dedicated to blogs. Now, Google is developing new services (also for free) designed to help advertisers plan their campaigns. (When such a plan was announced last week, the stock of ComScore, a publicly-traded firm that tracks Internet usage, fell by 23% ). Is this new foray of Google is a problem? Yes and no. Yes, the domination is somewhat worrisome, but now it is a given fact. And no because if we consider (as I do) that the Web has to be transparent for its basic audience data, then relying on Google is not such a bad thing since it already knows everything about our sites. And that will leave plenty of room for highly specialized firms that will deliver customized, value-added audience analysis, that will be worth the price. –FF

Wait, Wait, This Is My Stuff!

Social networks and PC becoming an arranged knwoledge network

Let me start with an example. Hopefully, the concept will emerge.
Facebook. The latest fracas is their conflict with Goggle’s Friend Connect,
technology that gives any web site simple tools to acquire social networking features.

As a result, users of my organic gardening site connect, share ideas, recipes, pictures with their friends on other participating sites, such as Facebook, hi5, Orkut and many others (social networking or not). The point of Friend Connect not being forced to become members of other sites, just sharing. A side-effect is it becomes easier to take my personal data from Facebook and move my information elsewhere.
No, no, says Facebook. After initially agreeing to the Friend Connect interchange, it blocked access.

This raises the question in the title: Is my Facebook information mine or not? The company has spent upwards to two hundred million dollars building a “free” service. The value Facebook counts on to generate advertising revenue is what they felicitously call the social graph. As the name suggests, this is information about me, about the people I connect to, what we like, picture we share, music recommendations, games we play, purchases we make, invitations to events.

Everything about everyone, arranged in a knowledge network. Slight exaggeration, but you see the idea. Not just tons of details about me but a web of such details. This leads to the advertiser’s wet dream: ads focused on one individual, at the right time. Gee, Joe just told his friends he’s got a new job, let’s see if he’s in the mood for a new car or a new suit, or inviting his best friends to a celebratory dinner. For you, special prrrrice today!

Facebook is currently investigated by Canadian authorities for its ways with user privacy and we’ll recall last Fall’s stumble with Beacon. Users weren’t pleased to discover Facebook passed information to merchants without their knowledge and consent. The plan was creepy: even when users weren’t logged on Facebook, some of their moves were recorded and passed on to “partners”. There is a pattern here: Facebook thinks it owns my data. This is the gold mine they want to exploit and they don’t like the idea of the data flowing somewhere else (read Google).

They are not alone. Many suppliers in our PC/Internet life clearly think they have extensive rights on our machines and our data. I recall the incessant Orwellian demands to download Windows Genuine Advantage (nice bit of newspeak) to enable operating system and Office updates. But I already proved last week I have a genuine copy of Windows! Never mind, do it again. In ironic ways, it gets worse with companies such as Symantec and their security products. Once installed, they are exceedingly difficult to remove. This is for your safety, you see. We conceal key bits so the virus bad guys can’t remove them. Well, no, you keep insisting and Symantec will reluctantly tell you where to download a removal tool the bad guys can use as well. –JLG

The perspectives of the two Lévys

Maurice Levy, 66, is chairman and CEO of Publicis, n°3 advertising group in the world. His son, Alain Levy, 45, is the CEO of Weborama, one of the leaders of Internet analytics in Europe. Two generations, two different vantage points on the changing advertising market, confronted in this interview by Le Monde (full text in French below).

Here are their respective takes on various subjects:

On the ad sector in general. Maurice (Publicis): “Our response time [to the tech challenges] are way too long. We need to speed up. The inflexion point for our companies is now”.

On the shift in ad spending. Maurice: “Print and TV has far from dead. Today, they account for 92% in ad spending. In 2010, it will be 88% but the share of the Internet will have grown twofold”. Alain (Weborama): “OK, TV will remain dominant, but it will become digital and will eventually allow all what is currently done with the Internet — interaction, targeting…”

The difficulties of Print media Maurice: “The print media must take advantage of two assets: their brand and their ability to select, process the information”. Alain: “Yeah, but today the so-called digital natives have zero loyalty toward content brands”.

The strategies to implement Alain: “One of the key questions is the relationship the big players will have with different technologies. Should they own them?” (Background: Alain Levy is adamantly warning against the domination by Google as he said in the issue #27 of the Monday Note). Pragmatic as usual, Maurice has chosen his camp: “In the interest of its clients, Publicis has decided to make a deal with Google and to work with it”.

Family lunches must me animated between Maurice and Alain Levy.


Pub, médias, Internet : le grand chambardement

© LE MONDE | 21.06.08 | 15h07 • Mis à jour le 21.06.08 | 15h07

Maurice Lévy est président du groupe Publicis, Alain Lévy est président de StartUp Avenue et de Weborama. Les deux générations que la “numérisation” a rapprochés confrontent leurs analyses.

Maurice Lévy, comment la publicité et les médias vont-ils évoluer dans un monde où les innovations se succèdent à toute vitesse ?
Maurice Lévy : Face aux technologies nouvelles, nos temps de réponse sont trop longs. Il faut accélérer. Nos sociétés sont à un point d’inflexion. Songez au temps que passent les internautes à s’informer, à se documenter, à se former, à travailler, à se distraire et à établir des relations entre eux : tout cela prend le pas sur les autres moyens de communication. Cela modifie les comportements, les attentes. Par exemple, les gens pensent que l’information doit être gratuite, que la musique est une marchandise. Il y a quantité de services qu’ils n’acceptent plus de payer. La vitesse des changements est telle que les schémas anciens de communication sont périmés. L’idée de faire une grande campagne de publicité à la télévision, avec des relais dans d’autres médias, est un schéma qui appartient au pasVous, Alain Lévy, vous créez des technologies dont se servent les publicitaires sur Internet. De quoi s’agit-il ?

Alain Lévy : D’un ensemble de techniques de connaissance des comportements des internautes qu’on appelle les Web analytics. Mon entreprise, Weborama, conçoit des outils qui sont placés sur les sites pour compter leur nombre de visiteurs, et d’autres qu’on place sur le navigateur de l’internaute (des “cookies”), et qui analysent sa navigation. Pour les annonceurs, l’intérêt est grand. Quand une publicité s’affiche, on sait si l’internaute a cliqué dessus, si ensuite il a acheté, combien il a dépensé. Ce qui permet d’évaluer l’efficacité des campagnes.

M. L. : Ces nouvelles possibilités ne signifient pas que la télévision ou la presse sont caduques. Celles-ci ont encore leur place, et une place prépondérante puisque aujourd’hui, ce sont 92 % des investissements publicitaires qui vont dans ce domaine. Demain, en 2010, ce sera encore 88 %, mais entretemps la part du Web aura doublé.

A. L. : La télévision restera prépondérante, mais elle sera numérique. Cela veut dire que tout ce qu’on peut faire sur Internet, on pourra le faire avec la télévision. Des campagnes ciblées, interactives…

Et la presse écrite ?

M. L. : Je considère que la presse joue un rôle essentiel comme ferment de nos démocraties. L’essor du Net lui pose un problème parce qu’une partie de la publicité bascule vers ces nouveaux médias. La presse est plus lourde sur le plan publicitaire : les espaces sont figés. Il n’y a ni mouvement, ni son, ni musique. C’est donc un mode d’expression assez limité pour les annonceurs. Résultat, ils coupent le plus facilement les budgets des journaux.

La presse possède deux avantages, qu’elle exploite plus ou moins bien. Le premier, c’est une marque. Dans l’univers Internet, il est plus facile de s’orienter quand on connaît le nom du site, par exemple lemonde.fr. Le second avantage, c’est que la presse a une maîtrise de l’information : elle sait la sélectionner, la traiter, la hiérarchiser. Elle doit tirer parti de cet atout face au foisonnement des messages. Mais le temps presse, si j’ose dire.

A. L. : Au risque d’être politiquement incorrect, je crois que les carottes ne sont pas loin d’être cuites. La mutation des médias classiques vers le numérique prendra du temps, et, pour la recherche d’information, Google est en train de rafler la mise. Les générations dites “natives”, qui sont nées avec Internet, ont zéro fidélité envers des marques de contenu. En revanche, elles ont besoin d’avoir tout de suite ce qu’elles veulent, et pas beaucoup plus. C’est un devoir d’éducation de leur transmettre l’idée qu’on peut aller plus loin que l’info brute. Moi, quand je lis une information sur le Net, il m’arrive d’avoir un doute et de vérifier dans les journaux. Mais j’appartiens à la dernière génération qui a ce réflexe. Les suivantes seront celles du tout-numérique.

M. L. : Les marques de journaux qui sauront faire la mutation vers le Net sont celles qui vont gagner. C’est déjà ce qui se passe aux Etats-Unis. Le New York Times, le Wall Street Journal abandonnent de plus en plus les espaces payants pour profiter de la fréquentation de leurs sites, et valoriser leur audience. Cela me fait dire qu’il y a un avenir pour la presse, mais plus le même, et plus seulement sur papier.

Et pour le secteur de la publicité, quelle doit être la stratégie ?

A. L. : La vraie question est de savoir quelle relation les grands acteurs de l’Internet entretiennent avec la technologie : doivent-ils la posséder, maîtriser l’ensemble des outils, ou au contraire laisser des entreprises nouvelles se mesurer aux très grands ? Google, il faut lui reconnaître ce mérite, a inventé le modèle économique de l’Internet. C’est grâce à lui qu’une page vue égale des euros, alors qu’avant elle valait zéro. Mais nous sommes entrés dans une nouvelle ère depuis que la Commission européenne a autorisé le rachat par Google de DoubleClick, le leader mondial de la publicité en ligne. Sa prédominance devient sans partage…

M. L. : Google est imbattable sur la recherche des mots, le “search“. DoubleClick a la maîtrise des bannières. La conjonction des deux donne une force considérable. Publicis a donc jugé bon, dans l’intérêt de ses clients, de parvenir à un accord avec Google et de travailler avec lui.

A. L. : J’ai un point de vue différent. La puissance de Google est fondée sur une technologie très efficace, une capacité à accumuler et à analyser des données inégalée jusque-là. Cela lui donne les moyens d’acheter tout ce qui bouge. C’est une espèce de grande faucheuse qui attaque tous les acteurs, tous les médias : les télécoms, la publicité, la communication numérique au sens large. C’est ainsi que Google, le symbole de l’hyperconcurrence des marchés, finit par tuer toute concurrence.

Comment les métiers de la pub vont-ils évoluer avec les nouvelles technologies ?

M. L. : C’est le point essentiel. Quand on fait une campagne à la télévision ou dans la presse, on lance les ordres, on attend, et à la fin de la campagne, on mesure les effets et on ajuste le tir pour la vague d’après. Et on recommence le cycle de manière indéfinie…

A. L. : Désormais, on peut faire la même chose en temps réel. Dès qu’il y a un clic, il s’imprime sur l’écran. Pour un annonceur, cet outil est grisant : un clic, et le chiffre d’affaires s’implémente. On n’a pas besoin d’attendre le verdict des hommes de l’art. C’est là que mon père et moi avons un désaccord. Je pense qu’à terme les plus gros annonceurs vont vouloir maîtriser tout ce processus. Du coup, le métier de l’agence va se retrouver cantonné à l’aspect créatif, qui sera d’ailleurs très important puisque nous allons vers un modèle : une personne, un comportement, une “créa”. La technologie va s’en mêler, donc Google va entrer sur ce marché.

M. L. : C’est ignorer comment Google fonctionne. Son rendement vient du fait que tout est automatisé. Il met beaucoup d’ingénieurs, un déploiement d’intelligence considérable pour développer un outil. Mais, une fois que l’outil est au point, c’est terminé, il fonctionne avec très peu de main-d’oeuvre. Dans la communication, on met très peu de gens pour penser les outils, et on en met énormément pour penser les besoins spécifiques de chaque annonceur. Les deux modèles économiques sont à l’opposé l’un de l’autre.

Quelles sont les prochaines étapes de la “numérisation” généralisée ?

A. L. : On ne connaîtra pas seulement le consommateur à travers son ordinateur. On le suivra dans la vraie vie. C’est ce sur quoi travaille une autre société que j’ai aidée à démarrer, Majority Report. Elle fait la même chose que Weborama, mais dans la réalité : analyser les trajectoires, comprendre les comportements des clients sur le lieu de vente. Les technologies du Net vont rayonner dans notre univers, et pas seulement dans les médias. Par exemple, on pourra compter exactement le nombre de personnes dans une manifestation.

Ce tout-numérique, qu’implique-t-il pour notre société ?

A. L. : C’est une vraie question. Moi, comme utilisateur, que suis-je prêt à tolérer ? Que suis-je prêt à donner comme informations sur ma vie ? Le terme “tracking”, qui désigne le suivi statistique des comportements sur Internet, signifie “suivre à la trace”, c’est assez épouvantable. La Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés (CNIL), en France, veille à ça, mais elle a un peu de mal à appréhender tout ce qui se passe. Chez Weborama, en tout cas, nous veillons à n’avoir aucune donnée qui permette de relier notre analyse d’un comportement à un individu. Ce sera un enjeu majeur dans les années qui viennent. Le consommateur est de plus en plus conscient de l’exploitation des traces qu’il laisse. On touche à la liberté ?

M. L. : C’est vrai que nous entrons dans le monde de Big Brother, et qu’il existe des moyens d’établir une traçabilité des comportements. On peut savoir à partir des technologies du GPS où se trouvent les gens grâce à leur téléphone portable, on peut suivre leur voiture, savoir où ils vont, ce qu’ils achètent, ce que sont leurs échanges de communication. Nous sommes dans une société de communication qui peut mettre en danger les libertés publiques et la vie privée.

Sous l’aspect publicitaire, il y a un autre danger, qui est celui de l’intrusion. Par exemple, vous visitez un site automobile, le publicitaire peut intervenir et vous faire une offre plus intéressante. Chez Publicis, nous résistons à cela parce qu’il s’agit vraiment d’une intrusion. Nous pensons que les gens n’accepteront pas qu’on regarde ce qu’ils font par-dessus leur épaule.

Propos recueillis par Sophie Gherardi

UK’s CityAM : profit and expansion

The free business newspaper CityAM is growing slowly but steadily. Its circulation is now close to 102,000 copies, a 47% increase since its launch in September 2005, and it could now expand out of London. Financially, CityAM made a 59,000 Euros profit for the six months ended in March, on revenues of 4,4m Euros for the period.

In many ways this small newspaper represents what a modern, focused daily should be:

- A lean and mean organization, built around a circulation calibrated for its audience, and which is small compared to other free UK papers (400,000 for Londonlite, 500,000 for The LondonPaper, 1.36m for Metro UK)

- Precise targeting: CityAM is distributed in the City of London at Canary Wharf, i.e. at the exit of only 17 subway stations out of the 572 in London. As a result, it enjoys a market reach greater than the Financial Times (actually, 80% of those who take CityAM have not read the FT when they arrive to work).

- Selective journalism: not only does CityAM bring its share of scoops, but it also manages to provide incisive analysis thanks to a sharp set of columnists. Its small staff also conducts excellent in-depth, fairly long, interviews. (CityAM is largely killing the idea that free press means only short articles).

- Editorial mix: a fair share of the paper is dedicated to lifestyle (about fifteen items spread all the week) and sport.

The result are enviable and solvent demographics, with readers making an average of 80,000 Euros a year. Not the grandiosity of the Financial Times, but way more readers per stories. (You can find more stuff on the subject in PressGazette and in the Newspaper Innovation blog.

Romenesko, the Pope of second-hand journalism

For many of us involved in the transition from digital to print media, Jim Romenesko was an early warning of what was about to happen to the industry. On his blog — always spartan — he has been gathering information at various stages of elaboration, from gossip to more fact-checked content. In his excellent column of Portfolio magazine, Howell Raines (former editor if the New York Times), recounts his virtual interview with this influential blogger, paid $170,000 a year, who scans 100 blogs a day. A “fact-free journalism” according to Howell Raines.

Google — The case for buying Associated Press

Would it makes sense for Google to buy AP? Yes, says a contributor to Wired.Com. AP is a non-profit cooperative with 1500 members, many of them on the verge of extinction. (See the latest’s figures form the New York Times which is bleeding ad revenue at a yearly rate of 13%), or the terrible situation of Tribune Co.

Google, by comparison is in excellent health and needs content. In August 2006, it agreed to pay for AP stories appearing on Google News (except for Agence France Presse, everyone else is giving abstracts for free). Starting from this, buying such a news gathering capability would make sense. At least it is much cheaper and way more tangible than any social network.

France — Lagardère and the faraway digital galaxy

For Groupe Lagardère, the shift to digital will be a long, long journey. Currently the n°1 media conglomerate in France, it is getting only 3% of its revenue from the Internet. In 2012, Lagardère wants to reach 10% to 12%. We are not there yet. Last week, the journalists of two of Lagardère major publications, the newsweekly Paris Match and the one day-a-week daily le Journal du Dimanche, voted by a landslide majority of respectively 95% and 92% to stop working for their website, pending further negotiations. They are invoking “money” and “conditions of production”.

Both arguments are bogus, to put it gently. Most employees of these two publications do not kill themselves on the job. They have time to write books, to appear on talk shows, etc. They get paid fairly well compared to the French newspaper industry average. For star reporters at Paris Match, managing extravagant expenses can be more time consuming than writing stories. And when I say writing, I’m being literal: several of them don’t even type. Yep, the digital world is a far away nebula. For the Journal du Dimanche (JDD), its a daily (quite a good one, actually) hitting the streets once a week. In fact, hitting the streets is figure of speech since most of the newsstands are closed on Sundays, and finding the paper is a game of chance of chance, or having the right neighborhood Tunisian grocer. It recently prelaunched its website, without earthshaking results (around 800,000 UV). As far as Groupe Lagardère, its stock lost 42% in one year

Lagardère Group journalists don’t have anything else to worry about? Of course they do — or should. Lagardère hosts the widest range of political conflicts of interest ever seen in media group. Let set aside the fact that most of the cash flowing to the mother company comes from the taxpayer: Lagardère is a major defense contractor. Let’s concentrate on the publishing arm. Most of the news operations is about to be put under one man. Jean-Pierre Elkabbach, 71, is just out of the main radio network Europe 1. He’s a long time member of the political milieu (he was already deeply esconced into the cozy French nomenklatura when Leonid Brejnev was ruling the Soviet Union). For almost ten years, Mr. Elkabbach was also the chairman of Public Senat, the private TV network of the French Senate. (Each time he had to campaign for his mandate, he used its morning slot of Europe 1 for gentle interviews with key senators). Now, he wants to control all news-related properties of Lagardère. That, I think, should be way more concerning for Lagardère journalists than the cut they of the small Internet revenues they are trying to get, or the “conditions de production” for the websites.

When politics are involved, Lagardère is careful to hedge its bets. At the upper level, management involves former staff members of different government cabinets. And, as a spokesperson, he got a street-smart guy named Ramzy Khiroun. The gent is parked at Lagardère while his former boss, the socialist Dominique Strauss-Kahn, is orbiting as the general manager of the IMF pending a re-entry in the next presidential election. Mr. Khiroun is actually working hard on preserving his relationship with the journalists community — a little bit at his boss’ expense. Regarding the Internet conflict, he said “Questions by [Lagardère's] journalists are legitimate”. Well, actually, he is wrong. The questions are totally misplaced. –FF

iPhone Applications: Apple people now believe in a Supreme Being

No, no, not Steve Jobs but an even higher entity smiling upon the company. As I hope to show, Apple’s hard work years ago is now about to pay huge unexpected dividends on the iPhone. When the iPhone first came out of Steve Jobs’ quasi-divine hands in January 2007, it was a hack, the result of clever handcrafting by Apple engineers, a crazed last-minute rush to the show deadline. As such, it lacked the basics of what we call a platform, an industry term of art – or BS. Here, a platform means a combination software, or hardware, or both on which software developers build applications. A platform requires documentation, where the building blocks are, what they do, how to use them. The platform also comes with tools, software to build and test the applications. Last but not least, a platform implies some stability, meaning it works often enough, and it’s predictable, it doesn’t take brutal turns that undo the work of developers.

Early 2007, the iPhone had none of these attributes. So, Steve resorted to proven industry maneuver: If you can’t fix it, feature it. No need for “native” (meaning running on the iPhone itself) applications. This is the New World of Web 2.0, bleated the propagandastaffel. Use the iPhone’s browser (the best in the business, it helped immensely) to run server-based applications. No need to download anything, centralized maintenance, easy updates… The faithful heretics would have none of that and a new game started. One week the hackers managed to break Apple’s barriers preventing the installation of native applications. A few days later Apple issued an update to the iPhone firmware that broke the hacks.

Let’s pause for a lemma, a building block in the story: from day one, the iPhone had something no competitor had: iTunes. Apple made having an iTunes account a sine qua non requirement for using an iPhone. For downloading songs and movies, just like its younger brother the iPod? That and more. With iTunes you backup your iPhone, you bring it back to “factory settings”, helpful if a hack “bricked” it, meaning if it became as lively of a brick, you install software updates, most of which defeated the impudent hacks.

Moving forward, the pressure was building: Apple made a very smart move by using a trimmed down version of OS X (the Mac’s software… platform) as the software engine for the iPhone. We know and love OS X, said the developers. Mr. Jobs, tear down that wall! It now looks like Google’s Android helped Dear Leader make up his mind. Rumors were mounting: RSN (Real Soon, Now), Google would announce a free, open-source platform for smartphones. Just as Steve smartly turned around and touted Intel processors after years of expounding the superior PowerPC architecture, on October 17th, 2007, he stood up and announced the SDK (Software Development Kit) for the iPhone. Availability by the end of February 2008.

The belief in Providence benignly smiling on Apple now comes in. In 2001, Apple sweated the servers, the legal agreements with publishers, the one-click payment system, the client software on PC and Mac. All this to create the still-unequaled iTunes experience. Now, one bright 2007 morning, they have an epiphany: Songs are zeroes and ones. One click and they land in a bin, a directory in the iPhone. But applications are also strings of zeroes and ones. If we put up iPhone applications in the iTunes store, they land in a different bin inside the iPhone but the one-click purchase and download is the same. Halleluiah! All the work to build the iTunes business now pays off for the applications. We must be The Chosen Ones. This is no small detail. Today, if you’re an independent software developer, writing good code is the easy part. The Evil S&M, Sales and Marketing, await you. Shelf space, physical or on the Web, is very expensive. Setting up download and payment systems isn’t for the faint of wallet either. With the iPhone, Apple removes (most of) these hurdles. All you have to do is write good code.

Picture the young developer still living in his mother’s basement, he sells 50,000 copies of his work for $10, the price of an iTunes album. Apple keeps $3, he gets $7. Times 50,000, he makes $350,000 and can now pay rent to his mother and buy her a car. (For perspective, the current forecast is for between 30 and 45 million iPhones sold by the end of 2009.) Picture also the competition. No one else has such a well-oiled, widely known system to add applications to a smartphone as Itunes. (Google says they will eventually offer one for Android.) This is a billion dollars business. Actually, $1.2 billion in 2009, according to Gene Munster a Piper Jaffray analyst. (For a healthy counterpoint, see the snarky comments on TechCrunch.) Regardless, the arrival of native applications on the iPhone is a big event, one made possible by an unintended – and rather amusing – consequence of the iTunes music distribution system. How will this be written up in books and Harvard Business School case studies? –JLG

Mail overload costs you 8 hours a week

You work in an information intensive environment. You feel like a productive person, with a clear idea of how to allocate your time, right? Think twice. According to the research firm Basex, here his how you spend your valuable time: – Interruptions for non-important stuff like non-urgent email, including the time to get back to serious work: 28% of your time – Productive content creation including writing useful stuff: 25% – Meetings (in person, phone or video): 20% – Doing some research for your work (all sources included):15% – Thinking and reflecting:12% Pathetic indeed.

Truth is, information overload is killing us. That’s ranges from unsolicited mails, “reply to all” and various flavors of “thank you!” messages. In this article, The New York Times even mentions the Silicon Valley expression “e-mail bankruptcy”, to describe someone so buried under his unopened e-mail that he has to perform a mass deletion and start over (I recently read somewhere that Marissa Mayer, Google VP for Search Product, said she had some day 800 messages backlog, who can seriously deal with that?). Information overload is hugely costly: Basex estimates at $650bn the drag on the economy and the study quotes Nathan Zeldes, an engineer at Intel who studies computing productivity issues, who said, “At Intel, we estimated the impact of information overload on each knowledge worker at up to eight hours a week.”

Not to mention the pernicious uses of email in the often-permanent sate of war in companies. A friend of mine told me recently : “Where I work, it’s Beirut in the executive offices. People no longer argue or even talk. They do so by email because it’s much better to build a case against someone than having a heated discussion. Files are building up with emails that will be used when needed. Time loss is tremendous, real issues are left aside, everyone spend hours at his desk devising an email strategy”.

Years ago, I had the discussion with Vint Cerf considered as one of the father of the internet (he’s now at Google). Vint explained how a clever use of email was critical for any organization, “and among all the criteria to evaluate my staff, is actually their ability to wisely use email”. Welcome to a new job: meet the email coach….

The Facebook Candidate

In last week Monday Note, my co-writer Jean-Louis Gassée explained why Silicon Valley was about to vote for Barack Obama, “He’s one of us”, he said. Here is couple of interesting stories I’m submitting to your point and click acumen. Two are from the Atlantic Monthly. The first one, tilted “HisSpace” explains how the use of digital media by the democratic candidate was comparable to the irruption of radio in the Franklin Delano Roosevelt election. Or to John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s mastery of television. “Obama has truly set himself apart by his campaign’s use of the Internet to organize support, writes Marc Ambinder. No other candidate in this or any other election has ever built a support network like Obama’s. The campaign’s 8,000 Web-based affinity groups, 750,000 active volunteers, and 1,276,000 donors have provided him with an enormous financial and organizational advantage in the Democratic primary. Obama clearly intends to use the Web, if he is elected president, to transform governance just as he has transformed campaigning”. The article refers also to the so-called Netroots that describes a new kind of political activism entirely based on digital networks.

But it’s on the money side that Obama’s digital inclination was the most compelling. According to the last count by the New York Times, Barack Obama has raised so far $240m compared to slightly more hat $100m for the Republican nominee John Mc Cain. More interestingly, 94% of donations to the Obama campaign were $200 o less. In the month of February alone, his campaign raised a stunning $55m, $45m coming from internet donation alone! In his piece “The Amazing Money Machine”, Atlantic Monthly reporter Joshua Green wrote : “[Obama] built a fund-raising machine quite unlike anything seen before in national politics. Obama’s machine attracts large and small donors alike, those who want to give money and those who want to raise it, veteran activists and first-time contributors, and—especially—anyone who is wired to anything: computer, cell phone, PDA”. More broadly, “Obama’08″ relies a lot on mechanisms of social and collaborative networks seen in Silicon Valley, suggests Noam Cohen in The New York Times.Does it guarantee a victory in November. Certainly not. Far from it.