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The Economist:

HEN the Sloan Digital Sky Survey started work in 2000, its telescope in New Mexico collected more data in its first few weeks than had been amassed in the entire history of astronomy. Now, a decade later, its archive contains a whopping 140 terabytes of information. A successor, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, due to come on stream in Chile in 2016, will acquire that quantity of data every five days.

Such astronomical amounts of information can be found closer to Earth too. Wal-Mart, a retail giant, handles more than 1m customer transactions every hour, feeding databases estimated at more than 2.5 petabytes--the equivalent of 167 times the books in America's Library of Congress (see article for an explanation of how data are quantified). Facebook, a social-networking website, is home to 40 billion photos. And decoding the human genome involves analysing 3 billion base pairs--which took ten years the first time it was done, in 2003, but can now be achieved in one week.

All these examples tell the same story: that the world contains an unimaginably vast amount of digital information which is getting ever vaster ever more rapidly. This makes it possible to do many things that previously could not be done: spot business trends, prevent diseases, combat crime and so on. Managed well, the data can be used to unlock new sources of economic value, provide fresh insights into science and hold governments to account.

Morgan Stanley's Latest: The Mobile Internet Report:

Our global technology and telecom analysts set out to do a deep dive into the rapidly changing mobile Internet market. We wanted to create a data-rich, theme-based framework for thinking about how the market may develop. We intend to expand and edit the framework as the market evolves. A lot has changed since we published "The Internet Report" in 1995 on the web.

We decided to create The Mobile Internet Report largely in PowerPoint and publish it on the web, expecting that bits and pieces of it will be cut / pasted / redistributed and debated / dismissed / lauded. Our goal is to get our thoughts and data into the conversation about what may be the biggest technology trend ever, one that may help make us all more informed in ways that are unique to the web circa 2009, and beyond.

Our key takeaways are:

Material wealth creation / destruction should surpass earlier computing cycles. The mobile Internet cycle, the 5th cycle in 50 years, is just starting. Winners in each cycle often create more market capitalization than in the last. New winners emerge, some incumbents survive - or thrive - while many past winners falter.

The mobile Internet is ramping faster than desktop Internet did, and we believe more users may connect to the Internet via mobile devices than desktop PCs within 5 years.

Five IP-based products / services are growing / converging and providing the underpinnings for dramatic growth in mobile Internet usage - 3G adoption + social networking + video + VoIP + impressive mobile devices.

Apple + Facebook platforms serving to raise the bar for how users connect / communicate - their respective ramps in user and developer engagement may be unprecedented.

and, via Fortune:

"Apple has a two or three-year lead" according to Katy Huberty, thanks to an installed base of 57 million handsets, 100,000 apps and 200 million iTunes subscribers with credit card numbers on file. (She will keep her eye, however, on Samsung, Nokia (NOK) and Google's (GOOG) Android.)

But much of the presentation was spent showing, in slides culled from research over the past two and a half years, that the iPhone is not like previous mobile devices, and its owners not like ordinary cell phone users.

For example, although iPhone and iPod touch owners represent only 17% of the global smartphone installed base, they account for 65% of the world's mobile Web browsing and 50% of its mobile app usage (see chart below).

Key Virtual Properties assets to help you take advantage of the mobile explosion:

The Profit and Peril of Mashups

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What is a "mashup"? According to this wikipedia entry, "In web development, a mashup is a web page or application that combines data or functionality from two or more external sources to create a new service."

Real estate brokers and agents may wish to take advantage of "free" internet api's (application programming interface). Websites such as flickr, facebook, youtube, yelp and many others offer programatic interfaces to their data and media.

What are the benefits of such API's?

  • Aggregate local information around properties for sale or rent.
  • Enhance your website "experience".
  • Avoid the cost of collecting and managing local information.
What are the costs and risks of using such API's?
  • Bad data. Automated information aggregators often lack local expertise. Information may be outdated; a long closed restaurant may still have a review on your website.
  • Inappropriate content. I created a Facebook demonstration for a client some time ago. The resulting page included an advertisement for Filipino Girls.
  • What motivates the data aggregator? Is their strategy aligned with yours?
  • Does the data make your site more generic?
  • Competitive stealth advertising on your site. Savvy competitors will figure this out and place their content on your site via the API's.
What are the alternatives to "mashups"?

Your agents have a wealth of local market knowledge. Hire or appoint a "blog-o-spondent" or "blogger-in-chief". This person creates and aggregates your own content (text, audio, video, maps) on your blog, around your website(s) and via appropriate social networks. Over time, agents and staff post directly and incorporate your listings, services and our unlimited use maps (for a fixed price). Create your own platform that emphasizes your brand. This approach improves recruiting, retention and internet marketing in ways that you control and at a much lower cost than traditional advertising.

Main Street reliably supports the tools you need, from blogs, dynamic short links, lead management, surveys and multimedia to market reports and live charting tools.

As always, there is no "free lunch".

Jonathan Cheng:

Concerns about a growing bubble in Hong Kong's high-end property market pushed central bankers here to increase the required down payment on luxury homes to 40%, from the current 30%.

The new measure, which goes into effect immediately, applies to properties valued at HK$20 million (US$2.6 million) or more, part of an attempt to tamp down an overheated sector that has alarmed regulators and set off a wave of populist anger.

The Hong Kong Monetary Authority, the city's de facto central bank and main banking regulator, said that luxury-home prices already had exceeded Hong Kong's historical peak in prices, in 1997.

While property prices in much of the rest of the world continue to languish, prices in traditionally volatile Hong Kong have been on a tear this year, thanks in large part to low interest rates and a wave of liquidity from mainland China, where Beijing last year unleashed a four trillion-yuan (US$585.6 billion) stimulus. Economists attribute much of Hong Kong's property run-up to mainland Chinese, and developers say that mainland Chinese customers now account for as much as 40% of new-home sales.

Blinded by Turbulence

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Don Sull:

It was a cool autumn evening in 1999, and Lakshmi Mittal listened as a team of MBA students painted a grim picture of the turbulence roiling the steel industry. Mittal had agreed to judge a case competition at the London Business School, where teams of finalists vied to analyze the success of his steel empire (including the private firm LNM and a public corporation Ispat International), and make recommendations to the firm's founder and CEO.

Mittal's success was undeniable. Since starting with a single steel mill in Indonesia in 1976, Mittal had built the fourth-largest steel company in the world, by acquiring under-performing steel factories throughout the 1990s in countries including Mexico, Canada, Trinidad, Germany, Ireland, Kazakhstan and the United States. Founded by an Indian, incorporated in The Netherlands, headquartered in London and selling steel in 80 countries around the world, Mittal's group was the first truly global steel company. Industry analysts estimated Mittal's steel holdings were worth $2 billion, which secured him a place on Forbes list of billionaires.

Based on their analysis, the student teams implied (without quite stating it in so many words) that Mittal's success resulted largely from good fortune. They argued he could not ensure continued success in the face of industry uncertainty. And since luck is not a strategy, they advised him to take chips off the table while he was still ahead, by selling his steel business, for example, or diversifying into related industries.

Mittal didn't take their advice.

Regulating British Real Estate Agents

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The Economist:

MOST people are all too familiar with estate-agent speak, in which "charming" means tiny and a "mature garden" is a jungle. The firms are only doing their job, which is to sell houses. Recession has made that tougher, and the temptation to indulge in hyperbole even greater.

This is harmless stuff, but estate agents who lie and cheat more seriously have enjoyed years of little or no regulation. It is only since October 2008 that they have had to become members of a redress scheme, so that complaints against them--for bigger sins than abuse of the English language--are handled in an orderly fashion. Such sins often involve taking secret commissions or failing to disclose hidden charges. Two schemes to resolve disputes exist, the bigger of which is run by the Property Ombudsman (TPO). Its ultimate sanction is reporting an estate agent to the Office of Fair Trading, which can put him on a register that bars him from practising. More than 130 are on the list.

Claire Compton & Martina Cermakova:

The Prague Post: You're running a real estate company in one of the worst markets in recent history. How do you survive, and how have you adapted?

Ivo Gavlas: We want to take advantage of the current situation to strengthen our firm. In the past year, it was almost impossible to find a quality broker, and we believe that we will be able to add more quality brokers to the staff. Our company has already existed on this market for 19 years, and this is not the first crisis that we have experienced and lived through. We successfully survived the crisis in the late '90s, and there is no reason why we shouldn't survive this one. We don't have any loans, and we don't need to take any loans out to do our business. At the very inception of our company, we swore to ourselves that we would never buy real estate from clients who come to us with the belief that we will sell their apartment or house for the highest possible price. We also decided that we won't ever go into our own development projects. As a result of this, we are not in the situation that some other real estate firms find themselves in, that bought apartments from clients and relied on the increase of prices and, instead, are faced with today's drops.

There is more to city life than convenience

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Michael Skapinker:

In the view of two recent surveys, however, London is no place to live. Nor is New York. Tokyo perhaps passes muster. Shanghai? Forget about it.

The two surveys - one by Monocle magazine, the other by the Economist Intelligence Unit - rank cities for their "liveability". This sounds like a dreadful neologism, but the Oxford Shorter Dictionary is quite happy with it, defining liveable as "conducive to comfortable living".

Zurich is the world's most liveable city, declares Monocle. My colleague Tyler Brûlé, who is editor-in-chief of that excellent publication, writes that Zurich gets the wink for its "high-quality housing, impeccable public transport network, a refreshing lake at its core, a well-connected and user-friendly airport, cosy little cinemas, well-tended bars and diverse population". Copenhagen took second place. Neither London nor New York made the top 25.

Vancouver, 14th in the Monocle survey, won top spot in the Economist Intelligence Unit liveability table, which ranked cities for their stability, healthcare, culture, environment, education and infrastructure. Vienna came second, Melbourne third.

Tokyo came only 19th in the Economist table, well behind the third slot Monocle assigned it. But then, as readers of his Financial Times Weekend column know, Tokyo is a personal favourite of Tyler's. I have visited the city twice, and loved it too. But one FT letter writer declared it "traffic-snarled, polluted and architecturally challenged". That is the fun of these city rankings. They get people worked up

Tim Bradshaw:

A boy lies on his back on a boardroom table in a high-rise office block in Toyko. He pulls out his Nokia, takes a photo of the setting sun - upside down - and sends it to his girlfriend in New York, where dawn is breaking. "Now I know we share the same horizon," says the voiceover. "My sunset is your sunrise."

It's a brilliant Nokia ad - the sort of simple, well-executed idea that agencies charge six-figure sums for. Only this one wasn't made by an ad agency - it was made by Hiroki Ono, a 23-year-old film student from Yokohama, Japan, who'd never made an ad before. The film, "Feel the globe", took just two days to make.

Hiroki's 30-second video was the winner of a competition run by Mofilm - a group working with film schools and YouTube addicts to find the best in user-generated content. Mofilm convinced companies such as Visa, HP, Best Buy and AT&T to "put their brands in the hands of consumers", as Nokia's head of brand engagement, Fiona Bosman, put it at yesterday's press conference at the Cannes Lions advertising festival.

Judging this contest was Spike Lee, director of Malcolm X and Inside Man and an enthusiastic supporter of user-generated content and DIY filmmaking.

Dennis Jacobe:

Plunging housing prices combined with historically low interest rates have persuaded 71% of Americans that now is a "good time" to buy a house -- up 18 percentage points from a year ago and the highest level of housing-purchase optimism in four years.
Is your business ready? Some firms will address the opportunity by growing costs, while others (fewer, probably) will embrace automation and new services, including ReData.

Related: Recent census relocation data.

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