It's time for me to start organizing the February meeting for the Istanbul NEG. The process will involve a few steps:
I am looking forward to a vibrant event where we can begin to see ideas flowing. (For a good discussion on idea flow, see point #2 under "Angels & Demons".)
Well, at least in China. FT recently reported that "eBay has stopped charging transaction fees to its sellers in China, and is now only charging listing fees". Both Nick Carr and FT agree that this is because eBay could not stand up to the pressure by AliBaba's TaoBao.
Here's the problem I see: To me, marketplaces should be natural monopolies. The barriers in front of a massive, single marketplace are anti-trust regulations, search inefficiencies, and brands (which, in fact is a result of search inefficiencies). And these are each significant barriers so we should not be worried that tomorrow, we will only have eBay through which we can peddle our goods.
However, as long as marketplaces don't turn into monopolies, there will be room for fierce competition, as we see from the China example, which will force the prices down. And, as a result, information (and content, since I have been focused on Media lately), once again will push towards being freely available.
Going back to the barriers mentioned above, the only one that's not artificial is search inefficiencies. Does this tell us that search holds the key to marketplaces and commerce in the future? I think Google is telling us it thinks so, with Google Base.
Rumors abound today that Yahoo!'s talking to Digg for an acquisition. I would be surprised if they do, so soon after del.icio.us, especially for the $30-35m price tag being talked about. According to PaidContent.org, digg has just 140K users. The price implies a >$200/member valuation. Remember Murdoch paid $580m for MySpace's 22m members. And, MySpace gets much more attention than Digg. I will be extremely surprised if the deal turns out to be true.
There's plenty of criticism on Google's decision to filter search results according to China's censors. Bambi Francisco even points to the event as a sign of Google management beginning to make moves for short term gain, and not long term shareholder value. She also thinks it's a diversion from the famous "don't do evil" principle.
Bambi concludes her article with:
"A successful serial entrepreneur friend once said that when starting a business, one has to know whether they're doing it because they want to change the world in a good way, or because they want to make money. It's one or the other, not both. He is right. We often have lofty goals. We often remind ourselves of them, as Google does of its own. But more often than not we fail to achieve them. The world changes us far more than we can change it."
I think there are different ways of measuring how lives are changed. Could it be a good thing (and thus a positive change in people's lives) that now the Chinese will be able to use Google? I bet Google's returned results on any given search will be better than Baidu.
A couple of weeks a go, Fred Stutzman, a PhD candidate at UNC published a brief analysis of Facebook usage by the incoming freshman class at UNC. There have been numerous posts in blogsphere on the paper, including one by Stowe Boyd.
While I think the analysis is interesting, especially in the pop culture insight it delivers, the most critical number was right there in the initial paragraph:
"...I found that 88 percent of freshmen on the UNC campus had active Facebook accounts."
I assume this rate is similar at other universities, and I am blown away.
UPDATE: In fact, at UT Austin (my alma mater), the rate is 90%.
Umair's post today made me realize the source of some recent anxieties I have been experiencing. He points out a post by Scott K., to whom he did not link and I was not able to locate, and comments how VC and media are not compatible.
I have been operating as an early-stage investor (without much investing :)) since the summer. However, as my interest has been shifting from technology to media, the set of available investment opportunities have been shrinking. So maybe, Umair is correct, when he says:
"...this is because VCs (with a few notable exceptions) and media are not a great fit - they don't get media, they're a bit scared of investing in media, and they often treat it like tech."
If he is correct, then there should be room opening for VC involvement in media, as the internet growth slams into media.
Google has bought dMarc, an advertising technology provider to the radio industry. The price tag is pretty large - a $100m deal that, with a mega earnout, can go up to $1.14 billion (according to the WSJ, via Jeff Jarvis).
To me, this shows that Google is staking out its position in all areas of media and entertainment. I presume dMarc strengthens Google's relationships on the ad sales side. I look forward to seeing how the radio side of the media/entertainment explosion plays out. (I noticed that Fred Wilson reported the deal in his series he calls "Exploding Radio". As I think about how radio, or pure audio content, will be impacted by the [r]evolution in media, I keep getting this picture of an old radio set, getting blown to pieces, in my mind.- Thanks Fred)