inspiral + stratechery   207

Apple’s Social Network – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
Third, starting with the December quarter, we will no longer be providing unit sales data for iPhone, iPad and Mac. As we have stated many times, our objective is to make great products and services that enrich people’s lives, and to provide an unparalleled customer experience so that our users are highly satisfied, loyal and engaged.
Apple  strategy  revenues  results  profitability  ARPU  Stratechery  2018 
28 days ago by inspiral
The Dropbox Comp – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
It’s been two years since I wrote that, and while Slack is still growing, albeit more slowly, the question of which company controls the future of enterprise computing remains an open one. Is it Amazon via infrastructure, Microsoft via infrastructure and identity and email, Slack via chat? Google via all-of-the-above?

What seems clear is that it won’t be Dropbox — both because files weren’t the right route and also because the company spent far too much time and energy chasing a non-existent consumer opportunity — but that’s ok. There is still value — at least $10 billion in value, I’d bet — in doing a job and doing it well, whether that be as a startup in 2008 or a public company in 2018.
Dropbox  Box  cloudcomputing  cloudstorage  strategy  review  valuation  collaboration  Stratechery  2018 
february 2018 by inspiral
Apple’s Middle Age – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
In this view, Apple Music serves as a “bridge” to translate iPhone market share into smart speaker share; services is a means, not an end, which is exactly what we should expect from a company with Apple’s vertical business model.
Apple  strategy  HomePod  launch  integration  AppleMusic  Stratechery  2018 
february 2018 by inspiral
Facebook’s Motivations – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
It follows that Facebook’s ultimate threat can never come from publishers or advertisers, but rather demand — that is, users. The real danger, though, is not from users also using competing social networks (although Facebook has always been paranoid about exactly that); that is not enough to break the virtuous cycle. Rather, the only thing that could undo Facebook’s power is users actively rejecting the app. And, I suspect, the only way users would do that en masse would be if it became accepted fact that Facebook is actively bad for you — the online equivalent of smoking.

This is why I find Facebook’s focus on what is good for users to be so fascinating. On one level, maybe the company is, as they can afford to be, simply altruistic. On another, perhaps they are diverting attention from problematic trends in user engagement. Or perhaps they are seeking to neutralize their biggest threat by addressing it head-on.
Facebook  strategy  onlineadvertising  review  MarkZuckerberg  Stratechery  2018 
january 2018 by inspiral
Disney and Fox – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
The implication of Netflix’s shift to original programming, though, isn’t simply the fact that the streaming company is a full-on competitor for cable TV: it is a competitor for differentiated content as well. That gives Netflix far more leverage over content suppliers like Disney than the cable companies ever had.
Disney  takeover  Fox  review  cableTV  streamingmedia  comparison  Netflix  strategy  Stratechery  2017 
december 2017 by inspiral
Pro-Neutrality, Anti-Title II – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
Regulation incurs significants costs, both in terms of foregone opportunities and regulatory capture
There is no evidence of systemic abuse by ISPs governed under Title I, which means there are no immediate benefits to regulation, only theoretical ones
There is evidence that pre-existing regulation and antitrust law, along with media pressure, are effective at policing bad behavior
NetNeutrality  review  zerorating  telecoms  regulation  critique  Stratechery  2017 
november 2017 by inspiral
Defining Aggregators – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
Aggregation Theory describes how platforms (i.e. aggregators) come to dominate the industries in which they compete in a systematic and predictable way. Aggregation Theory should serve as a guidebook for aspiring platform companies, a warning for industries predicated on controlling distribution, and a primer for regulators addressing the inevitable antitrust concerns that are the endgame of Aggregation Theory.
aggregator  aggregationtheory  strategy  Netflix  Uber  Google  Facebook  review  define  Stratechery  2017 
september 2017 by inspiral
Uber’s New CEO – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
To that end, Uber’s strength — and its sky-high valuation — comes from the company’s ability to acquire customers cheaply thanks to a combination of the service’s usefulness and the effects of aggregation theory: as the company acquires users (and as users increases their usage) Uber attracts more drivers, which makes the service better, which makes it easier to acquire marginal users (not by lowering the price but rather by offering a better service for the same price). The single biggest factor that differentiates multi-billion dollar companies is a scalable advantage in customer acquisition costs; Uber has that.
Uber  management  DaraKhosrowshahi  strategy  aggregationtheory  accommodation  Expedia  comparison  Stratechery  2017 
august 2017 by inspiral
Microsoft’s Monopoly Hangover – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
Still, the fact that enterprises no longer have data centers doesn’t mean integration is no longer valuable; rather, the locus of needed integration has shifted to the cloud as well. The average enterprise customer uses 20~30 apps, data is often scattered on and off premise, or stuck in email or personal accounts, and while IT departments may be happy to no longer upgrade servers, managing identity and security across all of these services and on a whole host of new devices far more likely to be used outside a company’s intranet calls for the same sort of integrator Gerstner wanted IBM to be.

This seems to be the long-term goal of Microsoft 365.
Microsoft  strategy  comparison  IBM  cloudcomputing  enterprise  integrations  review  Stratechery  2017 
august 2017 by inspiral
Amazon’s New Customer – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
In the long run, physical grocery stores will be only one of the Amazon Grocery Services’ customers: obviously a home delivery service will be another, and it will be far more efficient than a company like Instacart trying to layer on top of Whole Foods’ current integrated model.

I suspect Amazon’s ambitions stretch further, though: Amazon Grocery Services will be well-placed to start supplying restaurants too, gaining Amazon access to another big cut of economic activity. It is the AWS model, which is to say it is the Amazon model, but like AWS, the key to profitability is having a first-and-best customer able to utilize the massive investment necessary to build the service out in the first place.
Amazon  WholeFoods  takeover  strategy  groceries  review  Stratechery  2017 
june 2017 by inspiral
Apple’s Strengths and Weaknesses – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
This, broadly speaking, is the challenge for Apple moving forward: in what other categories does its business model (and everything that is tied up into that, including the company’s product development process, culture, etc.) create an advantage instead of a disadvantage? What existing needs can be met with a superior user experience, or what new needs — like the previously unknown need for wireless headphones that are always charged — can be created? To be clear, the iPhone is and will continue to be a juggernaut for a long time to come; indeed, it is so dominant that Apple could not change the underlying business model and resultant strengths and weaknesses even if they tried.
Apple  strategy  WWDC  tvOS  watchOS  AppleWatch  MacOS  iOS  iOS11  HomePod  Stratechery  2017 
june 2017 by inspiral
Tulips, Myths, and Cryptocurrencies – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
The problem, of course, is that while blockchain applications make sense in theory, the road to them becoming a reality is still a long one. That is why I suspect the better analogy for blockchain-based applications and their associated cryptocurrencies is not tulips but rather the Internet itself, specifically the 1990s. Marc Andreessen is fond of observing, most recently on this excellent podcast with Barry Ritholtz, that all of the dot-com failures turned out to be viable businesses: they were just 15 years too early (the most recent example:, the spiritual heir of famed dot-com bust, acquired earlier this year for $3.35 billion).

As the aphorism goes, being early (or late) is no different than being wrong, and that’s true in a financial sense. As I noted above, I would not be surprised if the ongoing run-up in cryptocurrency prices proves to be, well, a bubble. However, bubbles of irrationality and bubbles of timing are fundamentally different: one is based on something real (the latter), and one is not. That is to say, one is a myth, and one is merely a fable — and myths can lift an entire species.
Bitcoin  cryptocurrencies  valuation  bubble  TulipBubble  review  Stratechery  2017 
may 2017 by inspiral
WannaCry About Business Models – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
This is exactly what is necessary for good security: vendors need to keep their applications (or in the case of Microsoft, operating systems) updated, and end users need to always be using the latest version. Moreover, pricing software as a service means it is no longer a capital cost with all of the one-time payment assumptions that go with it: rather, it is an ongoing expense that implicitly includes maintenance, whether that be by the vendor or the end user (or, likely, a combination of the two).
Wannacry  security  hacking  review  critique  softwareasservice  comparison  incentives  Stratechery  2017 
may 2017 by inspiral
Boring Google – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
The opening to Google I/O couldn’t have been more different. There was no grand statement of vision, no mind-bending re-framing of how to think about the broader tech ecosystem, just an affirmation of the importance of artificial intelligence — the dominant theme of last year’s I/O — and how it fit in with Google’s original vision.
Google  GoogleIO  review  strategy  GoogleAssistant  GooglePhotos  GoogleLens  virtualassistant  imagerecognition  Stratechery  2017 
may 2017 by inspiral
The Local News Business Model – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
Indeed, the real problem with local newspapers is more obvious than folks like Rutenberg wish to admit: no one — advertisers nor subscribers — wants to pay for them because they’re not worth paying for. If newspapers were actually holding local government accountable I don’t think they would have any problem earning money; that they aren’t is a function of wasting time and money on the past instead of the future.
journalism  webjournalism  newspapers  local  subscription  review  forecast  Stratechery  2017 
may 2017 by inspiral
Apple’s China Problem – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
That, though, is a long-term problem for Apple: what makes the iPhone franchise so valuable — and, I’d add, the fundamental factor that was missed by so many for so long — is that monopoly on iOS. For most of the world it is unimaginable for an iPhone user to upgrade to anything but another iPhone: there is too much of the user experience, too many of the apps, and, in some countries like the U.S., too many contacts on iMessage to even countenance another phone.

None of that lock-in exists in China: Apple may be a de facto monopolist for most of the world, but in China the company is simply another smartphone vendor, and being simply another smartphone vendor is a hazardous place to be. To be clear, it’s not all bad: in China Apple still trades on status and luxury; unlike the rest of the world, though, the company has to earn it with every release, and that’s a bar both difficult to clear in the abstract and, given the last two iPhones, difficult to clear in reality.
Apple  iPhone  strategy  review  critique  competitiveadvantage  WeChat  China  Stratechery  2017 
may 2017 by inspiral
Not OK, Google – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
Indeed, that is why Google needs to be a whole lot more explicit about how it is ranking news. Perhaps the most unanticipated outcome of the unfettered nature of the Internet is that the sheer volume of information didn’t disperse influence, but rather concentrated it to a far greater degree than ever before, not to those companies that handle distribution (because distribution is free) but to those few that handle discovery. The result is an environment where what is best for the individual in the short-term is potentially at odds with what is best for a free society in the long-term; it would behoove Google to push off the resolution of this paradox by being more open, not less.

Sadly, it seems unlikely that my request for more transparency will get much support; Google’s announcement was widely applauded, and why not? It is the established media that will have a leg up when it comes to authority. That, it seems, is all they ever wanted, even if it means Google and Facebook taking all of the money.

Google  Facebook  webjournalism  fakenews  discovery  monopoly  Stratechery  2017 
april 2017 by inspiral
The Walt Mossberg Brand – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
It is a momentous day not just for those of us who write about the tech industry, but anyone who has paid any attention at all to consumer products for the last 26 years
WaltMossberg  journalism  technology  review  advocacy  Stratechery  2017 
april 2017 by inspiral
The Arrival of Artificial Intelligence – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
Technology, meanwhile, has been developed even longer than logic has. However, just as the application of logic was long bound by the human mind, the development of technology has had the same limitations, and that includes the first half-century of the computer era. Accounting software is in the same genre as the spinning frame: deliberately designed by humans to solve a specific problem.

Machine learning is different. Now, instead of humans designing algorithms to be executed by a computer, the computer is designing the algorithms. It is still Artificial Narrow Intelligence — the computer is bound by the data and goal given to it by humans — but machine learning is, in my mind, meaningfully different from what has come before. Just as Shannon fused the physical with the logical to make the computer, machine learning fuses the development of tools with computers themselves to make (narrow) artificial intelligence.

This is not to overhype machine learning: the applications are still highly bound and often worse than human-designed systems, and we are far, far away from Artificial General Intelligence. It seems clear to me, though, that we are firmly in Artificial Narrow Intelligence territory: the truth is that humans have made machines to replace their own labor from the beginning of time; it is only now that the machines are creating themselves, at least to a degree.
artificialintelligence  machinelearning  evolution  review  critique  Stratechery  2017 
april 2017 by inspiral
Intel, Mobileye, and Smiling Curves – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
Indeed, with this acquisition Intel’s greatest strength and greatest weakness is its dominant position with established manufactures: there is the outline of a grand alliance between car manufacturers, HERE maps, and Intel/Mobileye; the only hang-up is that the future of transportation is one in which the car manufacturers are the biggest losers. Companies like Uber or Google, meanwhile, have nothing to lose (well, Uber does, but they seem to grasp the threat).

Regardless, it’s a worthwhile bet for Intel: the company seems determined to not repeat its mistakes in smartphones, and given that the structure of self-driving cars looks more like servers than anything else, it’s a worthwhile space to splurge in.
Intel  MobileEye  automotive  selfdrivingvehicles  microchips  strategy  Stratechery  2017 
march 2017 by inspiral
The Uber Conflation – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
The first thing to understand about not just the current Uber controversy (controversies), but all Uber controversies is that while it not usually articulated as such, in fact there are multiple questions being debated.

Question 1: Is Uber a viable business that can one day go public, make a profit, and return the unprecedented amount of capital it has raised?
Question 2: Is Uber’s approach to regulation wrong?
Question 3: Is Uber wrong with regards to the specific issue at the center of this controversy?
Uber  management  ethics  regulations  sexism  review  critique  Stratechery  2017 
march 2017 by inspiral
Twitter, Live, and Luck – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
The companies that thrive in this new world are those that build new businesses uniquely enabled by the Internet; those that struggle are those with businesses built on old limitations — like, for example, the idea that “live” can only be experienced, well, “live.” That Twitter would seek to leverage its only-on-the-Internet initial product insight — the fact that anyone anywhere can read the musings of anyone else, and broadcast in turn — into an old-world business (“live” when live) is the best evidence yet that the company was the product of sheer luck, not insight.
Twitter  strategy  live  critique  Stratechery  2017 
february 2017 by inspiral
Manifestos and Monopolies – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
That, though, is why for me this manifesto crosses the line: contra Spider-Man, Facebook’s great power does not entail great responsibility; said power ought to entail the refusal to apply it, no matter how altruistic the aims, and barring that, it is on the rest of us to act in opposition.
Facebook  centralisation  review  critique  regulation  Stratechery  2017 
february 2017 by inspiral
Snap’s Apple Strategy – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
I do, though, have faith in Snap itself: Spiegel and team are the most innovative in tech, brilliantly laddering up to new opportunities, and creating new markets. The products will be great; we’ve known for 30 years, though, that that is not always enough.
Snapchat  IPO  revenues  ARPU  strategy  comparison  Facebook  socialmedia  Stratechery  2017 
february 2017 by inspiral
The Great Unbundling – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
First, the new winners have models that look a lot like the one that destroyed the publishing industry: by owning end users these companies either capture revenue directly (Netflix) or have compelling platforms for advertisers; content producers, meanwhile, are commoditized.

Secondly, all four jobs were unbundled by different services, which is another way of saying there is no more bundle. That, by extension, means that one of the most important forces holding the TV ecosystem together is being sapped of its power. Bundling only makes sense if end users can get their second and third-order preferences for less; what happens, though, if there are no more second and third-order preferences to be had?
unbundling  newspapers  journalism  television  music  evolution  Google  Youtube  ESPN  Netflix  Snapchat  Facebook  Stratechery  2017 
january 2017 by inspiral
The Ten Year Anniversary of the Apple TV – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
On January 9, 2007, ten years ago today, Steve Jobs took the Macworld stage and introduced the Apple TV.
That the iPhone had to share the stage the same day it was unveiled to the world is a footnote in history, especially given the degree to which that history has been indelibly shaped by the most consequential device the tech industry has ever produced.
iPhone  Apple  launch  anniversary  review  Stratechery  2017 
january 2017 by inspiral
Alexa: Amazon’s Operating System – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
In short, Amazon is building the operating system of the home — its name is Alexa — and it has all of the qualities of an operating system you might expect:

All kinds of hardware manufacturers are lining up to build Alexa-enabled devices, and will inevitably compete with each other to improve quality and lower prices.
Even more devices and appliances are plugging into Alexa’s easy-to-use and flexible framework, creating the conditions for a moat: appliances are a lot more expensive than software, and lot longer lasting, which means everyone who buys something that works with Alexa is much less likely to switch
Alexa  AmazonEcho  Amazon  operatingsystem  strategy  review  advocacy  contrast  MicrosoftWindows  Facebook  Google  Stratechery  2017 
january 2017 by inspiral
How Google Is Challenging AWS – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
To be sure, Google’s success is not assured: the company still has to grapple with a new business model — sales versus ads — and build up the sort of organization that is necessary for not just sales but also enterprise support. Both are areas where Amazon has a head start, along with a vastly larger partner ecosystem and a larger feature set generally.

And, of course, AWS has its own machine learning API, along with IBM and Microsoft. Microsoft is likely to prove particularly formidable in this regard: not only has the company engaged in years of research, but the company also has experience productizing technology for business specifically; Google’s longstanding consumer focus may at times be a handicap. And as popular as Kubernetes may be broadly, it’s concerning that Google is not yet eating its own dog food.

Still, Google will be a formidable competitor: its strategy is sound and, perhaps more importantly, the urgency to find a new line of business is far more pressing today than it was in 2006. Most importantly, the shift to cloud computing is still in its beginning stages, and while Amazon seems to be living the furthest in the future, the future has not happened yet; it will be fascinating to watch Google’s attempt to change the rules under which said future will operate.
AmazonWebServices  Google  cloudcomputing  Kubernetes  modularisation  machinelearning  strategy  review  Stratechery  2016 
december 2016 by inspiral
Fake News – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
Indeed, this is the same reason fake news flourishes: because users want it. These sites get traffic because users click on their articles and share them, because they confirm what they already think to be true. Confirmation bias is a hell of a drug — and, as Techcrunch reporter Kim-Mai Cutler so aptly put it on Twitter, it’s a hell of a business model.
Facebook  webjournalism  filterbubble  fake  truth  DonaldTrump  politics  elections  Stratechery  2016 
november 2016 by inspiral
Chat and the Consumerization of IT – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
So which definition of the Consumerization of IT is most meaningful? Is it consumer products ported to IT, consumer UI on traditional enterprise products, or a new business model that transforms the relationship between buyers and sellers? Certainly all three factors are important to the rise of software-as-a-service, but the upcoming chat wars will provide an interesting test as to which is the most important.
consumerisation  IT  enterprise  collaboration  WorkplacebyFacebook  SkypeTeams  Slack  comparison  strategy  Stratechery  2016 
october 2016 by inspiral
Snapchat Spectacles and the Future of Wearables – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
To be clear, I am peering into a very hazy future; for one thing Snapchat still has to build an actual business on top of that awesome engagement, although I think the company’s prospects are bright. And it goes without saying that the technology still matters: chips need to get faster (a massive Apple advantage), batteries need to improve (also an Apple specialty), and everything needs to get smaller. This, though, is the exact path taken by every piece of hardware since the advent of the industry. They are hard problems, but they are known problems, which is why smart engineers solve them. What is more difficult to appreciate is that creating a market for that smart technology takes an even more considered approach, and right now it’s difficult to imagine a better practitioner than the one on Venice Beach, far from Silicon Valley.
Snapchat  SnapchatSpectacles  wearablecomputing  comparison  GoogleGlass  ecosystem  opportunity  Apple  Stratechery  2016 
september 2016 by inspiral
Oracle’s Cloudy Future – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
In short, what Ellison was selling as the new Oracle looks an awful lot like the old Oracle: a bunch of products that are mostly what most customers want, at least in theory, but with neither the flexibility and scalability of AWS’ infrastructure on one side nor the focus and commitment to the user experience of dedicated SaaS providers on the other. To put it in database terms, like a hierarchical database Oracle is pre-deciding what its customers want and need with no flexibility. Meanwhile, AWS and dedicated SaaS providers are the relational databases, offering enterprises optionality and scalability to build exactly what they need for their business when they need it; sure, it may not all be working yet, but the long-term trends couldn’t be more obvious.

It should be noted that much of this analysis primarily concerns new companies that are building out their IT systems for the first time; Oracle’s lock on its existing customers, including the vast majority of the largest companies and governments in the world, remains very strong. And to that end its strategy of basically replicating its on-premise business in the cloud (or even moving its cloud hardware on-premise) makes total sense; it’s the same sort of hybrid strategy that Microsoft is banking on. Give their similarly old-fashioned customers the benefit of reducing their capital expenditures (increasing their return on invested capital) and hopefully buy enough time to adapt to a new world where users actually matter and flexible and focused clouds are the best way to serve them.
Oracel  profile  review  database  enterprise  comparison  Amazon  cloudcomputing  critique  Stratechery  2016 
september 2016 by inspiral
Beyond the iPhone | Stratechery by Ben Thompson
The truly wireless future that Ive hinted at doesn’t just entail cutting the cord between your phone and your headphones, but eventually a future where phones may not even be necessary. Given that Apple’s user experience advantages are still the greatest when it comes to physically interacting with your device, and the weakest when it comes to service dependent interactions like Siri, that is a frightening prospect.

And that is why I ultimately forgive Schiller for his “courage” hubris. To Apple’s credit they are, with the creation of AirPods, laying the foundation for a world beyond the iPhone. It is a world where, thanks to their being a product — not services — company, Apple is at a disadvantage; however, it is also a world that Apple, thanks to said product expertise, especially when it comes to chips, is uniquely equipped to create. That the company is running towards it is both wise — the sooner they get there, the longer they have to iterate and improve and hold off competitors — and also, yes, courageous. The easy thing would be to fight to keep us in a world where phones are all that matters, even if, in the long run, that would only prolong the end of Apple’s dominance.
Apple  iPhone  iPhone7  AppleAirPods  review  strategy  advocacy  Stratechery  2016 
september 2016 by inspiral
Drivers and riders are important to understanding the future of transportation-as-a-service (TaaS), but they are not the only pieces that matter — and not the only areas where Uber still has an advantage. I see five components that really matter:

The shift from an UberX model to self-driving cars will require changes in every component.
selfdrivingvehicles  ridesharing  UberX  UberPool  evolution  opportunity  review  Uber  Tesla  Ford  Nutonomy  Google  Stratechery  2016 
august 2016 by inspiral
Dollar Shave Club and The Disruption of Everything – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
More broadly, while razors with their huge gross margins and high replacement rate were a particularly good match for the Dollar Shave Club subscription model, I suspect this sort of disruption will not be a one-off: the Internet (and e-commerce) has so profoundly changed the economics of business that it is only a matter of time before other product categories are impacted, with all the second order effects that entails.

Perhaps the biggest of these second order effects is on value, and that’s where I come back to this purchase price: the tech community is celebrating the massive return for Dollar Shave Club’s investors, but $1 billion for a 16% unit share of a market dominated by a brand that cost $57 billion is startlingly small. Indeed, that’s why buying Dollar Shave Club was never an option for P&G: even if their model is superior P&G’s shareholders would never permit the abandonment of what made the company so successful for so long; a company so intently focused on growing revenue is incapable of slicing one of their most profitable lines by half or more.

For their part, Unilever is fortunate they don’t have a shaving business to protect, because being an incumbent is going to increasingly be the worst place to be. Dollar Shave Club’s motto may be “Shave Money Shave Time,” but just how many shareholders and policy makers are prepared for the shaving of value that this acquisition suggests is coming sooner rather than later?
FMCG  disruption  Unilever  P&G  DollarShaveClub  takeover  ecommerce  trends  disintermediation  Stratechery  2016 
july 2016 by inspiral
A Technical Glitch – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
One thing is for sure: this won’t be the last time something truly raw, visceral, and meaningful happens on Facebook Live. Zuckerberg has gotten his wish, even if the implications will ultimately be more than he bargained for: all of the eyes on those live videos will only increase the number of eyes on Facebook itself. It’s a classic case of unintended consequences: Facebook’s attempt to capture Snapchat’s private gestalt has only solidified its position as a public platform with the added component of a newsmaker in its own right, and while that carries clear benefits for society, society will expect more transparency from Facebook, willingly delivered or not.
Facebook  FacebookLive  livestreaming  webjournalism  impact  transparency  review  Stratechery  2016 
july 2016 by inspiral
The Brexit Possibility – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
Again, there are clear differences between the left and right: the former sees Wall Street or The City as the villain, while the latter blames immigration. Both, though, in their own way, want a return to the old deal: honest work for an honest wage, and an increasing sense of having nothing-to-lose until it happens.
globalisation  trends  automation  employment  middleclass  decline  technology  guaranteedbasicincome  deregulation  sharingeconomy  Brexit  Stratechery  2016 
june 2016 by inspiral
TV Advertising’s Surprising Strength — And Inevitable Fall – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
This is the story of most things Internet-related, not just narrowly but broadly: it’s no accident many of today’s startups are repeating ideas from the dot com era; it’s not that they were wrong but that they were too early. And, when it comes to old world companies, if you turn that graph upside down, the “trough of disillusionment” looks a lot like a bounce-back!

Ultimately, given the shift in attention, the threats faced by their best advertisers, and the oncoming train that is Facebook and Snapchat, were I a TV executive I wouldn’t get too excited about one nice week of ad sales. Indeed, the industry has been shifting to subscriptions for years, and while advertising will hold up for a while, the big drama is who will be left without a chair when the music stops.
televisionadvertising  media  trends  critique  forecast  decline  onlineadvertising  fmcg  disaggregation  fragmentation  Stratechery  2016 
june 2016 by inspiral
The Future of Podcasting – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
Go back to the five factors that go into effective media: both text and podcasts are relatively easy to create, but text is much easier to distribute and discover; the most effective podcasts, meanwhile, are those driven by brands or personalities, podcasts in general are great at retaining loyal listeners, and their monetization potential is much higher if the measurement can be figured out.

A Stitcher/Apple-type of solution does help on that last point, but it still makes distribution and discovery harder than it should be: a publisher has to tell its readers to go to a different app, search for their name, subscribe, and then depend on that 3rd app for monetization and measurement. Wouldn’t it be better if the publisher simply did that themselves?

I think there is a third way here, that preserves independence but starts to solve the monetization and measurement problem: publishers should offer podcasts through their own app that measures listens, and either sell ads themselves if they have the scale or outsource it to a company like Midroll. Midroll, for their part, should leverage their new player technology to offer skinnable apps for publishers who can’t build their own. The end result would be a much smoother path for publishers to convert their readers to listeners — and to effectively cross-promote — along with the measurement and scale needed to grow advertising meaningfully (or even offer subscriptions).
podcast  monetisation  review  forecast  Stitcher  MidrollMedia  Stratechery  2016 
june 2016 by inspiral
Peter Thiel, Comic Book Hero – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
Here’s the fact of the matter: what Gawker did (and still does) is wrong, but it’s wrong in the way that — and forgive the seriousness and political nature of this analogy, but I think it captures my point — Saddam Hussein was an awful dictator who murdered his own people. Taking him out may have been satisfying and justifiable in a narrow sense, but at what cost to the United States in both treasure and broader legitimacy?

The tech industry, like Thiel, is no underdog: it is the dominant economic force not just in the United States but in the entire world, both because of the wealth it creates, but especially because of the wealth it destroys. And, to quote another comic book figure, “With great power comes great responsibility”.

In this case, no matter how badly Thiel was personally hurt by Gawker, or how morally wrong their actions were, he is the one with far greater power, and the appropriate approach is not to leverage said power in an act of vigilantism, but to exercise the responsibility of defending the conditions that made his power possible to emerge, conditions that I believe are to the long-term benefit of everyone. That would be an approach worth applauding and emulating, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because the freedom that made possible the tech industry that made Thiel rich depends on it.
PeterThiel  Gawker  journalism  freedom  critique  Stratechery  2016 
may 2016 by inspiral
The Curse of Culture – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
The implications of this definition are profound: culture is not something that begets success, rather, it is a product of it. All companies start with the espoused beliefs and values of their founder(s), but until those beliefs and values are proven correct and successful they are open to debate and change. If, though, they lead to real sustained success, then those values and beliefs slip from the conscious to the unconscious, and it is this transformation that allows companies to maintain the “secret sauce” that drove their initial success even as they scale. The founder no longer needs to espouse his or her beliefs and values to the 10,000th employee; every single person already in the company will do just that, in every decision they make, big or small.
Apple  Google  culture  competition  management  strategy  critique  Stratechery  2016 
may 2016 by inspiral
Google’s Go-to-Market Gap – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
The problem is that as much as Google may be ahead, the company is also on the clock: every interaction with Siri, every signal sent to Facebook, every command answered by Alexa, is one that is not only not captured by Google but also one that is captured by its competitors. Yes, it is likely Apple, Facebook, and Amazon are all behind Google when it comes to machine learning and artificial intelligence — hugely so, in many cases — but it is not a fair fight. Google’s competitors, by virtue of owning the customer, need only be good enough, and they will get better. Google has a far higher bar to clear — it is asking users and in come cases their networks to not only change their behavior but willingly introduce more friction into their lives — and its technology will have to be special indeed to replicate the company’s original success as a business.
Google  strategy  review  critique  Stratechery  2016 
may 2016 by inspiral
The Real Problem With Facebook and the News – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
This, then, is the deep irony of this controversy: Facebook is receiving a huge amount of criticism for allegedly biasing the news via the empowerment of a team of human curators to make editorial decisions, as opposed to relying on what was previously thought to be an algorithm; it is an algorithm, though — the algorithm that powers the News Feed, with the goal of driving engagement — that is arguably doing more damage to our politics than the most biased human editor ever could. The fact of the matter is that, on the part of Facebook people actually see — the News Feed, not Trending News — conservatives see conservative stories, and liberals see liberal ones; the middle of the road is as hard to find as a viable business model for journalism (these things are not disconnected).
Facebook  bias  conservatives  Gizmodo  polarisation  Newsfeed  algorithms  webjournalism  review  Stratechery  2016 
may 2016 by inspiral
Everything as a Service - Stratechery by Ben Thompson
With regards to the iPhone, it’s hard to see its record revenues and profits ever being surpassed by another product, by Apple or anyone else: it is in many respects the perfect device from a business perspective, and given that whatever replaces it will likely be significantly less dependent on a physical interface and even more dependent on the cloud (which will help commoditize the hardware), it will likely be sold for much less and with much smaller profit margins.
Apple  strategy  iPhone  services  opportunity  review  Stratechery  2016 
may 2016 by inspiral
Antitrust and Aggregation - Stratechery by Ben Thompson
Similar, I have made the case that while Google may still grow, the company has peaked in relevance as well, eclipsed by Facebook. So sure, the European Commission can prosecute Google, but it won’t dent Android’s dominance, and it won’t deter whoever else has the problematic monopoly in the future. The incentives and feedback loops that drive towards domination are simply too strong (one could make the case that the most effective monopoly killer is the next monopoly).

To that end, there is no question that the broader point underlying Aggregation Theory holds: the (metaphorical) rules have changed, and it’s fair to believe that at some point the laws may have to as well. It won’t be easy, though, and the possibility of unintended consequences will be strong, particularly given the self-corrective resiliency tech has shown to date that provides a compelling argument for leaving well enough alone.
Google  Android  antitrust  monopoly  regulations  EuropeanUnion  AggregationTheory  review  competition  Stratechery  2016 
april 2016 by inspiral
Apple's Organizational Crossroads - Stratechery by Ben Thompson
The problem in all these cases is that Apple simply isn’t set up organizationally to excel in these areas:

Apple values integration and perfection, which results in too many services being over-built and thus more difficult to iterate on or reuse elsewhere
Service releases (and software) are not iterative but rather tied to hardware releases
Apple’s focus on secrecy means many teams end up building new services from scratch instead of reusing components
The root problem in all these cases is the lack of accountability: as long as the iPhone keeps the money flowing and the captive customers coming, it doesn’t really matter if Apple’s services are as good as they could be. People will still use the App Store, Apple Music, and iCloud, simply because the iPhone is so good.
Apple  strategy  management  hardware  software  critique  weaknesses  Stratechery  2016 
april 2016 by inspiral
Facebook, Phones, and Phonebooks - Stratechery by Ben Thompson
It is increasingly clear that there are two types of social apps: one is the phone book, and one is the phone. The phone book is incredibly valuable: it connects you to anyone, whether they be a personal friend, an acquaintance, or a business. The social phone book, though, goes much further: it allows the creation of ad hoc groups for an event or network, it is continually updated with the status of anyone you may know or wish to know, and it even provides an unlimited supply of entertaining professionally produced content whenever you feel the slightest bit bored.

The phone, on the other hand, is personal: it is about communication between you and someone you purposely reach out to. True, telemarketing calls can happen, but they are annoying and often dismissed. The phone is simply about the conversation that is happening right now, one that will be gone the moment you hang up.
Facebook  identity  image  strategy  socialmedia  review  Stratechery  2016 
april 2016 by inspiral
It's a Tesla - Stratechery by Ben Thompson
Good for GM, but I’m afraid the company — and Wired — missed the plot; as the article notes an optimistic goal for the Bolt is 50,000 units a year, and I’d bet the under: at the end of the day the company is still selling a relatively slow and ugly Chevrolet. Brand and reputation matters far more than being “first” to a product category where every model on the market has fallen short of expectations — except for Tesla.

To that end, the significance of electric to Tesla that the radical rethinking of a car made possible by a new drivetrain gave Tesla the opportunity to make the best car: there was a clean slate. More than that, Tesla’s lack of car-making experience was actually an advantage: the company’s mission, internal incentives, and bottom line were all dependent on getting electric right.
Tesla  TeslaModel3  launch  strategy  automotive  electricvehicles  Stratechery  2016 
april 2016 by inspiral
The Voters Decide - Stratechery by Ben Thompson
This has fundamentally changed the plane of competition: no longer do distributors compete based upon exclusive supplier relationships, with consumers/users an afterthought. Instead, suppliers can be aggregated at scale leaving consumers/users as a first order priority. By extension, this means that the most important factor determining success is the user experience: the best distributors/aggregators/market-makers win by providing the best experience, which earns them the most consumers/users, which attracts the most suppliers, which enhances the user experience in a virtuous cycle.
politics  socialmedia  AggregationTheory  DonaldTrump  disruption  USA  Stratechery  2016 
march 2016 by inspiral
Apple, the FBI, and Security - Stratechery by Ben Thompson
Note what I have not discussed in this article: privacy. In fact, I do agree that there are significant privacy concerns around the FBI’s insistence that Apple explicitly weaken iPhone security, and I would personally lean towards the privacy side of the debate when it comes to the privacy-security tradeoff.

That said, as I articulated above, I understand the FBI’s concerns about going dark, and the agency could hardly have picked a more compelling example to make their case for tech company cooperation. I am not surprised that a majority of Americans say Apple “Should unlock the terror suspect’s iPhone.”

That is why it is critical to make the argument that the FBI’s request weakens security by compelling something much deeper than merely “unlocking an iPhone.” In other words, given the context of the United States as a whole, an argument for privacy and an argument for security are not a tradeoff at all, but rather two paths to the same outcome: stronger, not weaker iPhones.
Apple  iPhone  security  privacy  encryption  SanBernardino  review  author:BenThompson  Stratechery  2016 
february 2016 by inspiral
Zenefits and Regulation - Stratechery by Ben Thompson
We are living in a time when technologies like the smartphone and the Internet are fundamentally changing what is possible, what is dangerous (or not), and incumbents in industries everywhere are threatened and heavily incentivized to exercise their influence on governments struggling to keep up with the pace of change. The last thing we need is companies voluntarily tying their own hands about something that is “right” simply because it’s legally gray.

But, on the flip side, regulatory risk is a real thing, and companies operating in this area must have more judgement and better execution and only choose battles worth fighting. Conrad failed on all three counts, and I suspect it may ultimately doom the company he started.
Zenefits  softwareasservice  startup  regulations  management  critique  review  Stratechery  2016 
february 2016 by inspiral
The Reality of Missing Out - Stratechery by Ben Thompson
I have been arguing for a while that in the aggregate the tech sector is fine, and the state of advertising-based services is a perfect example of what I mean: taken as a basket the six companies in this article (Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Yelp) are up 19% over the last year, even though the latter four companies are down a collective 53%; the fact that Google and Facebook are up a combined 31% more than makes up for it.

This makes sense: while advertising as a whole is a zero-sum game, there is a secular shift from not just print but also radio and TV to digital, which is why this basket of digital advertising companies is up. Digital, though, is subject to the effects of Aggregation Theory, a key component of which is winner-take-all dynamics, and Facebook and Google are indeed taking it all.
Google  Facebook  onlineadvertising  growth  marketshare  awareness  consideration  conversion  strategy  Stratechery  2016 
february 2016 by inspiral
How Facebook Squashed Twitter - Stratechery by Ben Thompson
I suspect the dramatic difference in Facebook and Twitter’s growth was due to three factors:

Facebook always had an inherent advantage over Twitter in that its network, at least in the beginning, was based on networks that already existed in the offline world, namely, people you already knew. That made the service immediately approachable and useful for basically everyone. Twitter, on the other hand, was more about following people you didn’t know based on your interests. This theoretically applied to everyone as well, but uncovering those interests and building an appropriate list of people to follow had to be done from scratch.
As any product moves down the diffusion curve from early adopters to the mass market, the marginal willingness of each new user to go through the effort of introducing said product into their daily life decreases: early adopters will jump through all kinds of hoops to take advantage of the product’s utility, but the 100 millionth user, to pick a number, is a lot less willing to go through the trouble. In retrospect it seems clear that in 2009 Twitter reached that marginal user: the service had tremendous visibility, but it was simply not worth the effort to get started for an increasing number of people.

Facebook, meanwhile, in 2009 made perhaps the most significant change to their service since the introduction of the News Feed, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that said change is roughly correlated with Twitter’s slowdown in growth: the News Feed added items beyond friends and family status updates, and it switched from being chronological to being algorithmic. Yes, the early adopters who had gone to the trouble to tune their feed complained, but the real beneficiaries were users who didn’t want to go to the trouble of making sure they saw something interesting — whether related to friends and family or not — whenever they visited Facebook. And, starting in 2009, those users had even less motivation to get Twitter working: Facebook was good enough.
Twitter  Facebook  comparison  attention  newsfeed  algorithms  Stratechery  2016 
january 2016 by inspiral
The FANG Playbook - Stratechery by Ben Thompson
None of the FANG companies created what most considered the most valuable pieces of their respective ecosystems; they simply made those pieces easier for consumers to access, so consumers increasingly discovered said pieces via the FANG home pages. And, given that Internet made distribution free, that meant the FANG companies were well on their way to having far more power and monetization potential than anyone realized.
Facebook  Amazon  Netflix  Google  strategy  aggregationtheory  aggregator  monopoly  Stratechery  2016 
january 2016 by inspiral
A Politics For Technology - Stratechery by Ben Thompson
Still, I’m glad Graham opened the debate. Technology is changing the world, and it is naive to not expect the world to begin to push back. Rather than always be reactionary, it is past time for the technology industry broadly and Silicon Valley in particular to get serious about what that world will look like in the future, especially given the fact there is actually a way forward that is a win for not just technology companies and their investors, but for those who are impacted — i.e. everyone. Just as we should separate the means by which Uber allocates drivers from the ability to pay for a ride, it makes sense to separate work from the provision of a social safety net, and those most able to capitalize on this new world order should be the most willing to pay.
Uber  surgepricing  review  freemarket  socialwelfare  libertarianism  critique  author:BenThompson  Stratechery  2015 
january 2016 by inspiral
Slack and the State of Technology at the End of 2015 - Stratechery by Ben Thompson
It turns out that “mobile” is not about devices, but rather, at a fundamental level, about computing anywhere; to differentiate between PCs or phones is an ultimately meaningless exercise. They are simply different form factors of effectively identical devices, the purpose of which is to connect us to the cloud (consumer or enterprise). And, by extension, if the device is simply an implementation detail, then the operating system that runs on that device is a detail of a detail.

What matters — what always matters! — is what actual users want to do, and what jobs they want to accomplish. And, whatever they want to do almost certainly involves communicating, which means Slack and its competitors are the best-placed to be the foundational platform of the cloud epoch. More broadly, humans are social creatures: why should we be surprised that social networks are primed to be the most important businesseses of all?
tech  evolution  Slack  growth  opportunity  advocacy  Stratechery  2015 
december 2015 by inspiral
Selling Feelings - Stratechery by Ben Thompson
Moreover, I think the model is broadly applicable. I wrote two weeks ago about how the future of publishing will not be about monetizing pure words but rather about using words to gain fans that can be monetized through other harder-to-discover media. Time and attention remain precious commodities and earning trust in one area gives you the right to make money from it in another. Similarly, as I wrote last week, software generally should be seen as a lever to solutions that are much more meaningful to customers, and much more difficult to copy. After all, as noted above, software is infinitely copyable: better to use that quality to your advantage than to base your business model on fighting gravity.
marketing  distribution  differentiation  strategy  userexperience  software  gaming  Stratechery  2015 
november 2015 by inspiral
Grantland and the (Surprising) Future of Publishing - Stratechery by Ben Thompson
In fact, it’s more than possible that in the long-run the current state of publishing — massive scale driven by advertising on one hand, and one-person shops with low revenue numbers and even lower costs on the other — will end up being an aberration. Focused, quality-obsessed publications will take advantage of bundle economics to collect “stars” and monetize them through some combination of subscriptions (less likely) or alternate media forms. Said media forms, like podcasts, are tough to grow on their own, but again, that is what makes them such a great match for writing, which is perfect for growth but terrible for monetization.

That’s why the lesson to be learned from Grantland may be the exact opposite of what it seems: the problem isn’t that ESPN spent too much money on a web site that couldn’t monetize, it’s that the web site should only have been step one to a multi-media endeavor that converted visitors to fans willing to invest time in formats that can actually pay the bills.
Grantland  BillSimmons  webjournalism  media  trends  disruption  forecast  Stratechery  2015 
november 2015 by inspiral
Stop Doubting the iPhone, The Macintosh Company - Stratechery by Ben Thompson
Indeed, the Mac remains one of the strongest arguments for the iPhone’s continued success; there is precedent for a higher-priced OS-differentiated product housed in the best hardware outgrowing the competition in a saturated industry for years, and it just so happens to be made by the same company.
iPhone  Apple  forecast  growth  Stratechery  2015 
october 2015 by inspiral
In Defense of The New York Times - Stratechery by Ben Thompson
That’s why I’m an optimist though: all kinds of people did make that argument — this site, former employees, even Amazon itself — and the net result is that we are collectively closer to the truth than we were before that article. So it was good journalism, and given the increasing importance of technology, we as an industry should embrace it: you can’t claim you want to change the world and not appreciate that the more ambitious your goals, the more necessary the challenges to exactly what you’re trying to change, and how you’re trying to change it.
NYTimes  webjournalism  strategy  Amazon  Stratechery  2015 
october 2015 by inspiral
Venture Capital and the Internet's Impact - Stratechery by Ben Thompson
So it is with venture capital: once startup funding requirements were reduced, the superior information and the willingness to hustle of angels and incubators earned the trust of the big companies of tomorrow, reducing more and more venture capitalists to dumb money hardly worth the 20% premium. The inputs to the Silicon Valley system have been changed, and we’re only now seeing the effects, and that should be a cautionary tale for just about everyone who thinks they and their industry are safe from the Internet’s impact.
venturecapital  AmazonWebServices  angelinvestors  startup  Stratechery  2015 
october 2015 by inspiral
Disconfirming Ebooks - Stratechery by Ben Thompson
My ultimate takeaway — and this is very much subject to revision, as a static theory is a worthless one — is that that final point, modularization, is critical. For Aggregation Theory to fully transform an industry it is not only necessary that some core aspect of the incumbents’ offering be digitized, but also that it be modularized into something that is cheaper and lends itself to a better user experience. Ebooks are digital but beyond that they’re not much different than books, and so, at least for now, the industry is a lot less different than many of us expected.
publishing  eBooks  books  critique  AggregationTheory  review  Stratechery  2015 
september 2015 by inspiral
Popping the Publishing Bubble - Stratechery by Ben Thompson
In fact, publishers going forward need to have the exact opposite attitude from publishers in the past: instead of focusing on journalism and getting the business model for free, publishers need to start with a sustainable business model and focus on journalism that works hand-in-hand with the business model they have chosen. First and foremost that means publishers need to answer the most fundamental question required of any enterprise: are they a niche or scale business?

Niche businesses make money by maximizing revenue per user on a (relatively) small user base
Scale businesses make money by maximizing the number of users they reach
webjournalism  trends  strategy  niche  scale  review  Stratechery  2015 
september 2015 by inspiral
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