Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Is Dixons preparing for another announcement?

A lot of bemused reports today on the Dixons announcement that they're taking the brand off the highstreet and using it online only (Times Online).

In January there were reports of Dixons putting a bid in for Dabs.com (Source: Netimperitive). Could they be preparing the groundwork for another announcement here?

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Google Grid

Thinking about IPTV today – it occurred to be that all the coming next generation IPTV set-top boxes could have grid computing included by default.

It would be really interesting if Google did a set-top box to rival a Microsoft Vista Media Center (with WPF) one. A Google IPTV box in every house using Macromedia Flash?, they could move some of their distributed computing grid into people's homes and do Adwords on your TV at the same time.

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Monday, April 03, 2006

WinFX and UX design (no standards from Microsoft)

Watching the WinFX demos from MIX06, whilst I’m excited about what is now possible; I am concerned this is going to be rushed out with little or no standards or guidance from Microsoft, great for innovative designers, bad for users.

There are virtually no demos from Microsoft themselves; it looks likely that all the major content providers are going to use completely different UX initially (already the NetFlix and BBC WinFX demos use completely different UX, yet both set out to do virtually the same function).

Current web sites have evolved their own standards, but it’s taken 10 years (most ecommerce site layouts are now the same, as are most search engines and forum sites).

The WinFX team doesn’t have 10 years and needs to work with the different parties now and start to agree some basic common design layouts for ecommerce, searching, media downloads etc. and make WinFX a step forward for users not a step back.

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Sunday, April 02, 2006

Social networking - is MySpace just a fad?

Pure social Networking sites like MySpace are the big focus of current Web 2.0 commentary. Putting aside the fact I disagree on the evolving definition of Web 2.0*, I am skeptical whether these pure networking sites will last long term at all.

* I strongly believe the real second generation internet will be seeded with WinFX and IPTV.

The users of pure social networking sites appear to be predominantly fickle teenagers which, whilst very attractive to advertisers, they do tend to move on to the next fad very quickly.

The rapid success of MySpace has given them significant scalability issues as they demonstrated at MIX 06. An overnight boom in load not only has the cost of software, hardware, management etc., but also the cost of the mistakes made in getting it right, and mistakes will happen when scaling systems and organisations fast.

If investors are persuaded social networking IPOs are the next Google - this could end up a worse ‘internet bubble’ than 2001, with new companies saddled with vast technical and human resource infrastructures for a user base that disappeared as fast as it arrived - closely followed by all the advertising revenue.

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InfoCard – the ecommerce holy grail?

If asked what todays most significant barrier to online retail is (as a user and developer of ecommerce applications) I would say security.

Users, myself included, do not feel comfortable handing significant quantities of personal information out everytime we buy something.

There have been many attempts to solve this issue, but none have produced a system that has gained wide acceptance by users or vendors.

Paypal has shown that online, easy-to-use, secure, private payment systems can be a success - they now have 72 million worldwide accounts, compared with AmEx's 65 million (source: Businessweek.com). However many retailers are not comfortable offering Paypal as a payment method yet (we've started taking it in the US, but not outside).

Microsoft is planning to include InfoCard as part of WinFX due out later this year (orginally as part of Vista but it looks likely it will also be released as a download for XP earlier).

InfoCard, an Identity Metasystem, will enable a consistent interface to validate your indentity to login into retail sites and also hold digital versions of your credit card to submit to vendors (they don't appear to be doing much more than hint about this in public yet).

If InfoCard can provide a consolidated login system for all your favorite sites and allow payment without explicitly providing personal information it will be the largest step change for ecommerce since the search engine a decade ago.

It will also be an absolute necessity for ecommerce on IPTV - as anyone who has tried to buy something from Sky Active will agree.

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Richer content, fewer small online retailers?

As Microsoft/Adobe drive further towards richer content (Vista Media Center, set-top boxes, broadband running WPF etc.) is there going to be a 'have/have not' split as happened with computer games?

Are online retailers going to needs artists, video producers and 3D animators to create even the most basic site suitable to compete on the new platforms?

(during the early 90s small talented game development teams found it harder to compete as larger companies put massive resource into richer content productions - although I'd like to see some of the early pioneers reform to produce some playable content for the 360)

As a mid-size retailer we are putting effort in now to try to stay ahead, but the cost of entry is about to rise considerably - which will affect the rich diversity of online retail, which can only be a bad thing for everyone - except the major retail aggregators like Amazon who are likely to get a big win.

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