May 2009 Archives


Carol Bartz made her first big appearance today at the seventh annual D: All Things Digital conference. As could've been predicted, this CEO famed for salty one-liners made quite an impression. Carol was asked about why she came to Yahoo!, what is Yahoo!, what's most important to us, the economy, whether she plans to hire a #2, her management style, what's going on with Microsoft, Google, whether she agrees with the Peanut Butter manifesto, and plenty more. The responses were candid, direct, and often quite quotable (for example, "Nine women cannot make a baby in one month. You need time and process.").
Bartz made several great points:
  • Nine Women
    "Nine women cannot make a baby in one month. You need time and process."
  • Silver Bullet
    Many organizations seek a marketing silver bullet via consultants or vendors. Good companies and software take strong leadership, the right people and (some) time...
  • Complexity Kills
    Bartz also talked about their 32 different codebases.. Main Street is designed for the real estate internet era, one system from leads to closings.
  • Leadership
    She does not need a number two because she does not want to be removed from the business.
Bartz exhibits authenticity, something that cannot be purchased via consultants.

Wolfram Alpha: The Search is on

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The Economist:

IT IS the curse of every internet search engine to be compared to Google, master of the universe and supreme ruler over two-thirds of such searches. Since newcomers never measure up to the breadth and depth of the billions of pages that Google has indexed over the past decade, most of these comparisons end with an easy win for the incumbent. Pretenders to the throne, nevertheless, keep appearing.

The latest, to be launched on May 18th, is Wolfram Alpha. It is named after its inventor, Stephen Wolfram, a British prodigy who earned his PhD in physics at the tender age of 20 and made a fortune from a calculation and graphing software package called Mathematica--and who raised eyebrows when he proposed, in a self-published tome in 2002, that the entire universe is but a giant calculator that has been running for billions of years.

To be fair, many of the overblown expectations surrounding Alpha do not stem from Dr Wolfram himself. Indeed, he describes his invention not as a search engine but as a "computational knowledge engine". The quirky label is not only an attempt to sidestep a confrontation with Google, but also hints at Alpha's different approach to answering questions.

Richard Waters:
So what exactly IS a "computational knowledge engine"?

Whoever devised the "soft launch" plan for Steven Wolfram's new search engine - er, computational knowledge engine - deserves a bonus.

Since Wolfram Alpha was shown off informally to a group of online writers earlier this month, the hype has been building fast. Before long, the question was inescapable: Has the Google-killer finally arrived?

So how does the experience compare to the anticipation? The "alpha" version of the service went live (after a bumpy start) over the weekend. Here are a few impressions, from our own tests and those of other reviewers:

Jim Collins:

In Autumn 2004, I received a phone call from Frances Hesselbein, founding president of the Leader to Leader Institute.

"The Conference Board and the Leader to Leader Institute would like you to come to West Point to lead a discussion with some great students," she said.

"And who are the students?" I asked, envisioning perhaps a group of cadets.

"Twelve U.S. Army generals, 12 CEOs, and 12 social sector leaders," explained Hesselbein. "They'll be sitting in groups of six, two from each sector--military, business, social--and they'll really want to dialogue about the topic."

"And what's the topic?"

"Oh, it's a good one. I think you'll really like it." She paused. "America."

America? What could I possibly teach this esteemed group about America? Then I remembered what one of my mentors, Bill Lazier, told me about effective teaching: Don't try to come up with the right answers; focus on coming up with good questions.

How Sudden Failures Happen Gradually

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Susan Cramm:

The book Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) discusses the psychological need to feel competent -- even when evidence to the contrary abounds. The AIG debacle revealed a classic illustration of this in the denial of responsibility by ex-CEO Maurice Greenberg. He said, "I don't feel any responsibility at can I be responsible for something that happened when I'm not there?"

Let's get real. Mr. Greenberg worked at AIG for 38 years and left less than 4 years ago. He hired the people currently in charge and "was behind the expansion push that included creating the financial productions unit that nearly sank the firm after he left in 2005." With due respect to the octogenarian, is this any way for a grown up to behave?

Everyone knows that things fail gradually, then all at once. The seeds of AIG's destruction were surely planted, watered and tilled by Mr. Greenberg and his fellow leader-gardeners.

Soar Above the Skyful of Lies

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Stefan Stern:

The great financial crisis intensified at ultra-high speed thanks to super-fast broadband connections and increased computer processing power. Time to switch the machines off? No. But it is surely time to manage the flow of information better.

This will not be easy. Research led by the husband-and-wife-team Professors Andrew and Nada Kakabadse (he is based at the Cranfield school of management, she is at the Northampton business school) has revealed the depths of managers' addiction to new communication technology. Around a quarter of the 1,200 professionals surveyed spend three or more hours a day on their e-mails and sending text messages. More than half the younger and middle-aged respondents never turn their phones off at all.

Three quarters of younger workers admit to being addicted to technology. Alcohol, tobacco, shopping: none of these temptations matches the appeal of fancy new gadgets and high-tech kit. The only good news is that, while confessing to their addiction, the majority of respondents deny that their use of technology is out of control.

There is a paradox at the heart of this exciting world of new technology. We crave flexibility, connectivity, and speed. But we risk turning ourselves into busy fools, bamboozled by too much noise and information. I know of one distinguished company chairman who provides a bin for his board directors, into which they must drop BlackBerrys and similar devices at the start of any meeting. "You are here to pay attention and work, not play with that thing," is his not very subtle message.

What Only the CEO Can Do

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Stefan Stern:

The current issue of the Harvard Business Review contains a rare piece of commentary from a serving chief executive, Procter & Gamble's AG Lafley. His article is called "What only the CEO can do". It contains a run-down of the key tasks and responsibilities that fall to the organisation's most senior manager.

Mr Lafley should be congratulated for sticking his head above the parapet and engaging in debate. Not enough CEOs do this. But then, not too many of them would be able to marshal an argument in such an interesting way.

Luckily I was able to follow up with "AG" on the phone last week. It turns out that in writing this piece P&G's boss was repaying a long-standing debt to the late Peter Drucker. "I went to see him two or three times a year towards the end of his life," Mr Lafley explained. "I committed to turning his notes into something." After nine years in the CEO's chair, he feels able to answer the question that Drucker used to put to him: what is the work of the CEO?

The central task, Mr Lafley argues, is to link the outside world with what is going on inside the corporation. This involves four main challenges. First, making sure that the voice of the consumer is heard loudest and clearest of all, above that of any other stakeholder. Second, deciding what business you are in - and equally, what businesses you should not be in. "People don't volunteer to exit a business," Mr Lafley told me. "That's one of my jobs: to weed the garden."

Homes built for a new American Dream

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Home developers are morphing designs to match the needs of homeowners in a new economy. Kai Ryssdal talks to Elizabeth Moule, an architect in Pasadena, Calif., who's using the subprime crisis as an opportunity to re-think how homes are built.

Young families take new look at city life

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Sam Eaton:

A growing number of young families are rethinking the traditional American Dream of owning a home in the suburbs. They're now considering the advantages of renting a place in the city.


For the Air Canada article I was researching a video hosting service that would match my requirements of:

Which rights of my work I would have to give away,
what usage rights I could assign to my viewers,
what level of privacy I could expect in terms of disclosure of my data,
and where a service had its legal residence in case of a dispute.
I've decided to collect and extend my findings in this post in the hope that it can help others in choosing their preferred video hosting service.

Why Do People Turn Subprime?

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The Economist:

WHO is a subprime borrower? You hear a lot of speculation about this small, but significant population. Were they greedy, irresponsible people who wanted a bigger house than they could afford? Or were they naive, seduced by unscrupulous lenders and the American dream of home ownership?

This Boston Fed paper (via Rortybomb) offers a precise definition of subprime borrower, which traditionally referred to a person with a low credit score. But the increase in subprime lending in the mid-1990s expanded the definition to someone who elects not to give detailed financial information, offers a low down payment, or wants a bigger house than a prime lender would grant them. In exchange for being subprime they paid higher interest rates.

One surprising thing about subprime borrowers is that up until the mid 2000s most loans were used to refinance rather than purchase a new home. So many subprime borrowers initially qualified for a prime loan, but then refinanced using subprime. This signals deeper financial issues with many subprime borrowers. It would take a significant shock to lower your credit score and make you refinance your mortgage at a higher rate. It suggests many subprime borrowers were struggling to stay in a home they already bought through a prime lender.

Trulia's Web Ranking Strategies Come Under Fire

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There is much controversy these days in the real estate blogging world about the overly aggressive link strategies employed by Trulia.

Galen Ward, co-founder of, a Seattle real estate brokerage, first brought to light the ongoing conversation about Trulia's questionable optimization techniques in an article at BloodHound Blog. The article raised many eyebrows and started a flurry of criticism and the birth of a massive campaign titled Trulia Awareness to educate unsuspecting non-internet savvy agents and broker/owners that Trulia may be a modern day version of the Trojan Horse.

Most internet savvy companies would not accept, even as trade, supplying content for another company's website for traffic and exposure when the receiving company does not give credit back to the original source of content by hoarding page rank.

They might be better served by hiring SEOs and investing in their own websites and arming them with the very tools necessary to give the consumer what they want, and compete directly with the competition for their share of internet traffic.

The crux of the controversy is that Trulia receives its content in the form of real estate property listings from trusted partners (i.e., real estate agents and real estate companies) and displays these listings on their real estate site. Through a clever process, Trulia employs technical maneuvers such as "nofollows," temporary redirects, etc., which essentially makes the original source of the information invisible to Google, thus allowing Trulia to outrank the original source in the search engines.

One person's promotional strategy is likely another's link spam.

Building Resources in a Downturn

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Don Sull:

Recessions create buyers markets for rare, valuable, and difficult to imitate resources. Downturns also generate opportunities to enhance a firm's existing resources, including brand and relationships, or build new ones from scratch. Building resources when competitors are not investing confers three benefits-lower cost, more bang for the buck, and a head start when the economy turns up. McKinsey & Company studied US industrials that improved their relative performance during the early 1990's recession, and reported in a 2002 study that these companies outspent their rivals on R&D, advertising and acquisitions during the downturn. Spending to build resources in a downturn is counter-intuitive, but below are three reasons why it can be a good idea.
  1. Lowers Cost of Investment
  2. More Bang for the Buck
  3. Headstart when the economy rebounds

How Domino's responded to prank video

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Benny Evangelista:

The saga of the prank Domino's video could be a case study of how fast-moving social media can both giveth and taketh away.

It began April 13, when five YouTube clips showing a Domino's Pizza employee performing unsavory acts with food began spreading on the video-sharing site.

One clip shows a male worker, identified in the amateur video only as Michael, sticking cheese up his nose and adding it to a sandwich. In another, Michael sneezes into a cheese steak sandwich "to be served to some unlucky customer that's in need of some snot," said the video's shooter and narrator, who identified herself as Kristy. In a third, Michael rubs himself with a sponge, then uses it to clean a pan.

Predictably, the vast YouTube community was revulsed, yet watched anyway. Within a day, the clips had been viewed about 200,000 times, while anti-Domino's comments began to spread on Twitter and other social media sources.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from May 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

April 2009 is the previous archive.

June 2009 is the next archive.

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