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A Dream House After All

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Karl Case:

This financial crisis has made us all too aware that we live in a Catch-22 world: the performance of the housing market drives the economy, and the performance of the economy drives the housing market. But housing has perhaps never been a better bargain, and sooner or later buyers will regain faith, inventories will shrink to reasonable levels, prices will rise and we'll even start building again. The American dream is not dead -- it's just taking a well-deserved rest.
Karl E. Case is a professor emeritus of economics at Wellesley and co-creator of Standard & Poor's Case-Shiller housing index.

Ryan Singel:

The lawsuit (.pdf), filed in US District court in San Francisco, asks the court to find that the practice violated eavesdropping and hacking laws, and that the practice of secretly tracking users also violated state and federal fair trade laws. The lawsuit alleges a "pattern of covert online surveillance" and seeks status as a class action lawsuit. The lawsuit was filed by Joseph Malley, a privacy activist lawyer who also played key roles in other high profile privacy lawsuits, including a $9.5 million settlement earlier this year from Facebook over its ill-fated Beacon program and a settlement with Netflix after the company gave imperfectly anonymized data to contestants in a movie recommendation contest.

"The objective of this scheme was the online harvesting of consumers' personal information for Defendants' use in online marketing activities," wrote Malley, who called the technique "as simple as it was deceptive and devious."

Unlike traditional browser cookies, Flash cookies are relatively unknown to Web users, and they are not controlled through the cookie privacy controls in a browser. That means that even if a user thinks they have cleared their computer of tracking objects, they most likely have not.

Adobe's Flash software is installed on an estimated 98 percent of personal computers, and has been a key component in the explosion of online video, powering video players for sites such as YouTube and Hulu.

Websites can store up to 100KB of information in the plug-in, 25 times what a browser cookie can hold. Sites like Pandora.com also use Flash's storage capability to pre-load portions of songs or videos to ensure smooth playback.

Do We Still Need Websites?

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So with all this relentless talk about Twitter accounts, Facebook fan pages and cool new apps, I have a serious and timely question. Do brand websites still matter?

Yes, I know -- even asking this question is a bit digitally sacrilegious. Websites are to digital strategy as models are to fashion, but do we really need them?


I mean, didn't things seem a tad curious during the World Cup when brands like Adidas and Nike actively promoted their Facebook page -- not their primary website -- at the end of their TV spots? Just this weekend, I saw a similar cross-feed to Facebook for Kohls. Talk about kicking the ball into a different goal.

Think about all the hoops we've jumped through to register proprietary domain names, in every country and business type -- this perpetually rationalized by an almost unstoppable parade of GoDaddy ads (titillation and all). As a domain-name collector myself, it's hard not to feel a twinge of asset deterioration.

But before you start penning the "ditch the brand website" memo, hold your tweets for a moment. Websites are not going away -- they might be more important than ever -- but they serve a different and evolved purpose today, especially in this new "social" context.

Think wholesale, less retail. Think distribution, less destination. Think serving, less selling.

Crowdsourcing: Amazon's Kindle Commercial Contest

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Patty Seybold:

Once again, Amazon is running a "Design your own Kindle Commercial" contest. The deadline to submit a single video with original soundtrack and footage is August 29th. You have to be a resident of the U.S. to enter this contest. The winner will receive a $15,000 Amazon gift card and the four runners up $2,500 gift cards. These kinds of contests seem to provide great opportunities for under-recognized professionals to strut their stuff, although I'm sure that the submissions include a lot of good amateur ones as well. Last year's submission helped the careers of the winning producer-director team, the team who wrote and recorded the music, and the team who did the actual video.

Here's the winning submission from last year's contest:

The hottest housing market: Information

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Michelle Singletary:

In the real estate world, there was one word that used to be the cardinal rule: location, location, location.

Just about anybody -- the informed and uninformed -- could buy a house in a good location and easily make money by flipping, selling or refinancing the home, sometimes after just a short ownership.

That was then, before the Great Recession.

This is now, and the new cardinal rule of real estate is information, information, information.

"For decades, the real estate industry has operated under the principle that the less information buyers and sellers have, the better it is for agents, lenders, title companies, and all the other folks who eat from the trough," writes Ilyce Glink in "Buy, Close, Move In: How to Navigate the New World of Real Estate -- Safely and Profitably -- and End Up with the Home of Your Dreams." "But the real estate tide seems to be turning, as the housing and credit crises of 2008 have heightened awareness in Washington, D.C., and on Wall Street about the catastrophic consequences of a closed information loop."

I have no doubt that many professionals in the real estate industry will take great exception to Glink's observation. But the evidence is on her side. We ended up in one of the worst housing market collapses because far too many borrowers were uninformed, ill-prepared and overly optimistic about potential gain because of bad information they received and gladly embraced.

Bob Sutton:

My last post made me nostalgic for the old HP. Those of us who are faculty members in the Stanford School of Engineering have a special place in our hearts for the company that Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard started. They were students here and started the company with $500 borrowed from Fred Terman, who was dean of the school for many years. They also donated very generously to the school; a building is named after Bill, another after Dave, and a third after Fred Terman -- all built with HP riches. I also have been influenced by the old HP's values, which helped shape my belief that a good company or boss ought to be judged on both performance and humanity -- indeed, that is is exactly how I define a good boss in my new book.

I have blogged about it before, but it is a good time to revisit David Packard's wisdom. His quote in the title is wonderful. The worst managers and companies often seem to be doing too many things, making things too complicated for insiders and outsiders, and suffering from scattered attention rather than a sharp focus on what matters most. If you think about Apple, a big part of their brilliance is how few things they do -- they have a remarkably small product line for such a big company, for example.

I especially love Dave's 11 Simple Rules, which he first presented at a company meeting in 1958 but are just as valid now as they were then. Here are the first five:

It's the End of the Web as We Know It

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Steve Rubel:

Wither the web? It's hard to believe but soon, if not already, the web is going to become a lot less interesting to consumers -- and just as it approaches its 20th birthday.

According to Morgan Stanley, within five years global internet consumption on mobile devices will surpass the same activity on PCs. This sounds like good news. It's natural to think that browsers on the third screen (phones) and the fourth screen (tablets) will simply replace time spent in front of the same on a PC. That's not the case.

Mobile devices, by their nature, force users to become more mission-oriented. As more internet consumption shifts to gadgets, it's increasingly becoming an app world and we just live in it. Innovation, fun, simplicity and single-purpose utility will rule while grandiose design and complexity will fall by the wayside.

It won't be enough just to build branded mobile applications that repurpose content across all of the different platforms. That's like newspapers taking the print experience and replicating it on the web as they tried back in the 1990s. Rather, we will need to rethink, remix and repackage information for an entirely different modality than platforms of yore.

First, let's look at the trends.
Virtual Properties broker iPhone / iPad / iPod app; v2.5 is now available.

The Financial Times posted several articles on "Google's Black Box" this week:

Richard Waters:

In an office in Santa Monica, wedged between downtown Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean, the future of the media industry is being drawn up.

Demand Media is a company created specifically for the Google Age. It tracks the queries entered into search engines to find out what users are interested in, then hires freelance writers at rock-bottom rates to rush out articles to meet the need.

To make sure these articles appear high up in the results when similar searches are done in future, it uses the techniques of search engine optimisation - the term given to the art of designing a web page so that it is accorded a higher ranking by Google's algorithm. It also makes money by displaying adverts alongside its articles from Google's advertising system.

The fact that content factories are being created to ride on the back of search engines highlights an uncomfortable paradox.

Google's search engine formula marks an ambitious attempt to model the real world in mathematics, identifying its users' needs and desires and delivering the best information from the web in milliseconds. But as its influence across the web grows, Google's algorithm is starting to shape the world it describes.

Tom Foremski:
Groups magnify chances of Google hits:
Companies with a high page rank are in a strong position to move into new markets. By "pointing" to this new information from their existing sites they can pass on some of their existing search engine aura, guaranteeing them more prominence.

This helps companies such as AOL and Yahoo as they move into the low-cost content business, says Mr Bonnie. "They can use their Google page rank to make sure their content floats to the top," he says.

Google's Mr Singhal calls this the problem of "brand recognition": where companies whose standing is based on their success in one area use this to "venture out into another class of information which they may not be as rich at". Google uses human raters to assess the quality of individual sites in order to counter this effect, he adds.

I've known about this for several years but wasn't able to get anyone from Google on the record. These Google employees have the power to promote or even completely erase a site from the Google index.
Scott Cleland:
Wow. After a decade of passionate public representations that Google's vaunted search algorithm is "neutral' and unbiased, we now learn it has substantial regular human intervention to discriminate what site gets what ranking, who gets found and who does not, and who wins and who loses in the business of online content.
The explosion in mobile apps, including our broker iPhone/iPad/iPod app, is changing everything online.

Internet Trends

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Mary Meeker, Scott Devitt, Liang Wu: 1.2MB PDF.

Henry Blodget comments:

Some key points:

The iPad is one of the fastest-selling gadgets of all time (1mm in 28 days)

Android smartphone shipments almost now equal iPhone shipments (Apple's app leverage may disappear fast)

Global 3G wireless penetration just hit 20%, which is usually the inflection point to very rapid growth

Mobile app and search usage is up 2X year over year

iPad Internet usage is more similar to desktop usage than smartphone usage (more pageviews)

Japan shows the potential for mobile advertising: Japan mobile ad spending now $11/user, up from $1 per user six years ago.

Japan shows potential for mobile commerce: 19% of Rakutan's sales now from mobile.

Learn more about Main Street and our iPhone app. Cloud & mobile computing from leads to closings, and everything in between!

Erick Schonfeld:

The Huffington Post is taking on more of the trappings of a social network. Borrowing from Foursquare, today it will start giving out badges to loyal readers who share a lot of HuffPost stories via Facebook and Twitter (the Networker), comment like crazy (the Superuser), or flag inappropriate comments (the Moderator). The site also redesigned its user profile page to better highlight each user's comment stream, and her friends, fans, or followers.

Last summer, the site launched its HuffPost Social News network, allowing readers to log in with their Facebook IDs, and friend, fan, and follow each other on the site. It later added Twitter, Google, and Yahoo as login options. "We want to incorporate the best of social media," Arianna Huffington tells me. "It is important for the growth of the site so far, and even more important for the future growth."

The Huffington Post is already fairly huge. Five years after she launched it as a politics blog, it now attracts 23 million readers a month in the U.S. (comScore, March, 2010), which is more than the NYTimes.com (13.3 million). And the site now covers 20 different news categories, including media, entertainment, sports, business, and local city sections for New York, L.A., Chicago, and Denver. An art section is launching next month, and after that a travel section. Politics now represents less than a quarter of the HuffPosts's traffic.

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