While I'm on the topic of mobile payments, here's some compiled data about the growth of Paypal, Square's major competitor, in the chart below. Paypal has global reach and experience, brand access to a network of 9 million merchants and 100 million users, the capital and financial flexibility to undercut Square on transaction fees by .05%, the whitespace to learn from Square's experience, and an Yves Behar-designed product in Paypal Here.
But Square's got a head start with getting its product in the hands of merchants (Paypal Here is currently only in limited release) and a myriad of partnership / M&A options. They'll have to match on transactions fees but they have some breathing room before Paypal Here is in broad release. No reason to do it any sooner, and some good reasons not to, which can be measured in dollars. If I were them, I would prep the match announcement and wait until the day Paypal Here is rolled out, to deflate the news hype. Probably not a coincidence that Square started to look for a fresh major round of funding ($250 million) in mid-April 2012, a bare month after Paypal Here was announced in March. If they're not planning on putting themselves up for sale, they'll need the capital base to compete. Matching transactions fees, consolidating and expanding their domestic base, and international expansion all cost money. Exciting times ahead.
I get on conference calls all the time, and recently experienced issues getting Skype to recognize numbers inputted through the digital keypad. After a wide-ranging Internet search and a series of attempts at troubleshooting, problem solved.
In hopes of helping others out there in the Inter-world, a summary of possible solutions:
1. Lower the volume
2. Use a headset
3. Download an older version of Skype:
Also useful for those automated customer service systems where you're constantly keying in numbers to navigate.
Square has been seeing some ridiculous growth in the past half-year. This chart above was pieced together from a number of data sources. If I were Apple, Google or one of the big credit card associations, I would look to buy them now. They're not going to get any cheaper.
May 16, 2012
"It’s only a matter of time before the laptop and tablet (and maybe even phone) converge in the mass market, and people will own exactly one workflow device and laugh about the crazy olden days when we carried all these separate devices. The average <insert new hybrid device name here> will look not that dissimilar from the tablet today, with a beautifully integrated keyboard that converts as needed, and with the full analytical power and compatibility of a (sharp inhale) PC laptop. Windows 8 will undoubtedly be a player in the delivery of this vision. Every credible professional will have one. That’ll also be the day that we have an answer to the question, “When will corporations buy tablets for all their employees (i.e. not just the salesforce)?” The answer: When they can’t help it."
June 19-20, 2012
"Surface Pro, meanwhile, will challenge the current crop of laptops and Ultrabooks--and there it may well win. Why purchase a classic clamshell-style laptop if you can get a tablet that quickly and elegantly becomes a laptop when you need one--all without sacrificing performance, interoperability, or functionality? The big question here is whether consumers can manage with a 10.6-inch display as their laptop screen; for many consumers, I suspect, the convenience of a tablet/laptop hybrid may be worth the drawback of having to put up with a smaller screen."
"Apple, by contrast, has consistently argued tablets are entirely separate from portable PCs. "If you force them together, I think the PC is not as good as it can be, and I think the tablet is not as good as it can be," said Tim Cook, Apple's chief executive, at the D: All Things Digital conference last month."
I tend to think Apple is wrong. As I wrote last month, the overlap in use cases between a tablet and laptop is too great for consumers, and particularly heavy-travel prosumers, to carry both around if they don't have to. A lot of people have been waiting for the tablet to be a full workflow device; integration with Microsoft Office suite is a significant element of that.
Frankly though, I didn't realize the future halcyon days I described in my post last month would come so soon. I haven't seen the Surface Pro live but I'm giving Microsoft the benefit of the doubt that they've learned some key lessons from the iPad, which, even if they're not reflected in the first iteration, could be readily applied in future versions.
In my mind, the only tiny (giant) hitch is the consumer software ecosystem, i.e. apps. Let’s see if they (Ballmer) can leave their ego at the door in order to build that developer ecosystem and stage the comeback they’ve been looking for.
The Nieman Journalism lab highlights in this article the challenges in trying to create objective filtering algorithms for the news. The struggle between "we have to make it" technologists and "human needs are not taxonomy" humanists continue.
But like many wars, once you start to speak the same language, once you have that shared platform that enables you to see yourself in "the other", the bloodshed begins to die down.
In regards to the news, the common ground for technologists and humanists is expanding, and is called "design." After Steve Jobs, the term design means something very different than it used to. There's a strong element of empathy in what we currently call design, an empathy for the user, the individual, and his - well, to be completely redundant - individualism.
To the cult of Steve, this is pretty ho-hum stuff. We forget though that for a very long time, and as a result of an industrial age that thought of organizations as machines, we loved to group people. It was our collective bad habit that grew into addiction because of its usefulness. It was like Windows 98 in 2004, a useful but ancient artifact that became inherently limiting. We've learned a bit more since then but we still love to group people. It's easy, locally efficient, and scalable. Religion, nation, education, politics, state, age groups, generations, digital immigrant status - it goes on and on.
Our desire to algorithmically produce shared "content results" derived through a common filter stems from that old mindset, one where standardization was cheaper. But the marginal cost of data is zero and personalization is better. The Nieman Lab gets to the heart of the matter - what is relevant for you is fundamentally different than what is relevant for me. It's also true that what is relevant for me today could be very different from what is relevant for me in a month - though we should recognize that I generally change much less in a month than the average difference between me and the next person.
I think about this all the time for my day job - this idea of the long tail of information needs. Every set of metrics I see about information consumption in a global firm of 180,000 points to that long tail of needs. And frankly, while my firm is large and diverse, there is an inevitable and specialized kind of homogeneity based on the selection process to even be hired. Yet, despite that similarity, still there's an extraordinary divergence in information needs. The top keyword search on our intranet in a given month - "learning program" for the curious - represents only 3% of the total, and even that percentage drops off steeply as you go down the list of keywords.
How can we serve that diversity of information needs, both densely and efficiently? We talk until I want to puke about personalization, but what does that really mean and where have we seen systems and institutions treat people like the whole persons that "personalization" implies. Historically, the rigor of programming logic, taxonomy, and ultimately actually having to put fingers to keyboard and make the damn thing has forced us into a pseudo-personalization as the best alternative available. Whether it’s favorites, bookmarking, opt-in newsletters, or social, we call the result personalization because each person at least sees something different, and because it is admittedly a notch further along in the general right direction. There’s usually a better before you get to the best.
But how about the whole person me -
So – what information do you have for me? What filtering algorithms will you create? Will they pick out my firm's acquisition of a digital agency, the opening of a new Charles Phan restaurant around the corner from my house, a new talk by David Eagleman, a beautiful letter from Cheryl Strayed as Dear Sugar, the engagement of my friends Geraldine & Felix in London, a new Skillshare class on mapping spatial data in SF, my friend Wes' desert race? How do you take the gold pebbles I now have to tediously mine throughout the day, and hand me a pure bullion bar every morning? My sister, who's probably the person most like me in the world, couldn't do it. It's like your best friends setting you up on a blind date - how often do they go well. We individuals are so specific, there’s no way someone else could tell gold from dross, consistently.
Those kinds of filtering algorithms can’t be created; they have to grow. They have to grow in the same way we grow, from a seed pattern, with variable expression, adaptable, evolving – human beings are the ultimate example of mass complex individualization, and we are grown. There’s no other way to do it. In 246 BC, the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, created 8000 unique terra cotta soldiers, each modeled after a real soldier, to protect him in the afterlife – but it required 700,000 workers and decades to complete. And our outsides are far less complex and easier to recreate than our insides.
To take the metaphor to its stretching point, growing a young filtering algorithm requires the right fertilizer – the kind of rich, nuanced, sometimes paradoxical information about you that no single person has all of, not even yourself. You need a heck of a lot of information to mine to even begin to codify the depths of someone’s values, dreams, loves, life.
The technologist will say, “This is still crazy talk.. we eventually have to put fingers to keyboard. The perfect filtering algorithm is a false Shangri-La.” But let’s for a moment create a reality distortion field, of the variety that Steve Jobs liked to construct. How would we, not necessarily aggregate, but rather connect, all that information about an individual? Where would we start? Who would we trust with it? Maybe no one. Perhaps only ourselves. Or – maybe everybody, under the right circumstances and enabled by some system of clever mechanisms and protocols. No one, ourselves, everybody, how about all of the above.
Or maybe it’s impossible. Maybe. But how many times has someone said that, only to be proven wrong? On first glance, we seem impossible, the complexity of our brain structure, the intricacies of our social interactions, the out-of-nowhereness of our art, the permutations of us. But we exist, and we grew and evolved. We are not perfect but we tend to get better. Call the comparison (of growing filtering algorithms to evolution) macro-biomimicry or conceptual skeuomorph or just a mere instance of AI machine learning – whatever the case, it seems hard to deny that evolution has time on its side.
Is it just a matter of enough cycles? I don’t know. I do know that the scale of the conversation today between the Two Cultures – sciences and humanities, technologists and humanists – is unprecedented. Edge.org, TED, Apple products, neuroscience, game mechanics, and on and on. I can’t think of a better place to focus their efforts than the design of filtering systems that grow a thumbprint algorithm for each of us.
Why does personalization matter? It sometimes sounds like glazed-over jargon. Here is why it matters: Because time continues to pass whatever we will, and so life is short and information infinite. If I value that time, what can be more important than filtering systems that delight me with their relevance, let me quickly consume the most important information for me - drawing the cutoff where I decide - and free me up to spend the rest of my sunny day on people and other things I love.
From the children's book Cheaper by the Dozen, after father of twelve Frank Gilbert had died of a heart attack:
"Someone once asked Dad: “But what do you want to save time for? What are you going to do with it?”
“For work, if you love that best,” said Dad. “For education, for beauty, for art, for pleasure.” He looked over the top of his pince-nez, “For mumblety-peg if that's where your heart lies."
Every year or two, I pick up a new fascination. Not always while leaving one behind.
My current fascinations: biochemicals, identity, live PageRanking of people through trust, minimum viable constructs for organizations, differentiation as a way out of the rat race, and always always, love, time and death.
The word 'identity' often gets the eyes-glazed-over look. There's this boringness to it, like obviously you're Asian and female. Duh.
Identity has always been about what is different and significant - you refer to me as Asian and female because that's what makes me different from other people you might be describing. Otherwise, how would they know which is me and it would all be a waste of breath.
But I don't understand what most people call identity. Morning breaks the day after I’m born, and I am of a sex, age, genotype. I have hair color, eye color, ethnicity, some say IQ and sexual preference as well. This initial draft is written, and I stand in the corner, watch the parade go by, and can truthfully say I had nothing to do with it, even though I am all of it.
Proud? That’s a strange question. It’s like asking if I’m proud the asphalt is gray, the sun is shining. I had nothing to do with it. It’s a shame that the elements that can be readily understood, seen from the outside, transferred in ink and byte, are these random happenstances. These weren't my choices. This is not me. These were the cards I was dealt, not the game I played. I’d be proud if I accurately read the iPod-eared, sunglass-wearing bald guy across the green felt of a Texas no limit game, if I built credibility as a tool and wielded it as a scalpel, and won a round I shouldn’t have. But I wouldn’t brag about my pocket aces. That's the mark of a bad player.
It’s both strange and not strange that identity has always been about how we are different. We’re designed to notice differences, movement, color, designed to use our scarce attention to make choices for survival. Something in our biology demands that we compete, and since it’s hard to compete against identical clones, we jostle with everyone else to be different. And sometimes throw elbows.
We are impelled by evolutionary logic: scarce expensive pregnancy and plentiful sperm. As a result, women are reluctant and men are eager. Historically, men have had a narrower set of criteria in what they look for – does your facial symmetry indicate strong genes and does your body type suggest child-bearing health, i.e. small waist, large breasts. The limited dimensions of competition created a certain kind of competitive intensity among women. We ask for more loyalty from our friends than men do, and tend to give more loyalty in return. Men are actually more competitive with each other - evidenced by the rate of homicide among young unmarried men - but are also more likely to forgive disloyalty from their buddies, possibly because it offers them useful information about their potential mate. In both genders, the evolutionary compulsion to compete ends up driving many of our decisions - from buying a BMW to picking fights at bars to getting a tattoo to taking a job we hate for the money.
We human beings are highly adaptable, however, and the cultural shift of the past 100 years offers the hope that we may be able to exit this execrable rat race, slowly and over time.
Suppose we could exit this and all the other symptoms of the status syndrome. Hop off the ladder to nowhere. Where does that leave us? Lost, bland, homogenously vanilla? Standing on the same crowded step? Perhaps it’s time to recognize that we don’t have to try to be different. We are already uniquely different by nature of our individual starting points and singular journeys, genetic and experiential. It is intrinsic to us.
But unfortunately the ways in which we are intrinsically different are not obvious to the naked eye. The problem is marketing. Not advertising, but high-integrity communication in mostly non-verbal form. We every day have opportunities to say, without necessarily speaking: “This is who I am.” Identity rather than status, including but beyond outfit and music selection, from the moment we walk through the door. The small, the daily, the trivial, they all reflect the larger who-we-are. They are choices and because they are choices and we willed them to be, they become us, all of them, every last bit. There is a divinity in our choosings.
We carve our lives with these choices, and we create footholds, affordances for others. 'Affordances' is a term used in psychology, the quality of something that allows another to perform an action. I think of it as those little protuberances and tiny holes in Legos, that allow pieces to be joined together. And I wonder: Is it possible to shape our individual affordances to match us to the optimum (for us) friends, spouse, career and life?
My dream is to get to a place where we are rock-solid in the validity of our differences and not jostling for space. We’ll know we have gotten here when we are consistently generous in thought and deed to people both like and unlike us, and ourselves as well. Without envy or spite or even a moment's discomfit or squeak. Sigh. A utopia? If you wanted everyone to behave like this, maybe. But we have vast, immeasurable degrees of freedom over the shaping of our own selves. By and large, we get to decide. We don’t seem to use this power very much and it’s tragic.
Oh, and identity? I’d like identity to be more than difference. Of all the things that I am, what I’m most proud of is my humanity, and the choices that become me. I wake up every morning and I work at it, to be more human, to move further away from child-animal, to see myself in other people and act accordingly. I know I’ll never achieve full humanity (and knowing myself, it would maybe be a Mother Teresa tragicomedy if I did) but I work at it every day, when I haven’t gotten much sleep, when the world grates on me like nails on blackboard, when my mother calls me to nag, and I fail and I fail and I get closer. From ten thousand feet high, we all look the same. We have the same motivations, wants, needs, the same things drive us. If you compare us to the universe of all, we look virtually identical. Can we all share our identities, overlap in our humanity? Are we breaking the meaning of the word? Well, why not....I suppose we did make it up in the first place.
I'm interested in uncertainty, time, trust, consistency, strategy, economics, empathy, philosophy, education, technology, story-telling, and fractals.
My Favorite Curators
BPS Research Digest
PIMCO Investment Outlooks
GMO Client Reports
MRN Research Papers
Chicago Booth eNewsletters
Boldtype / Artkrush
The Aspen Institute
This American Life
Chicago Booth Podcast
The Atlantic Council
The Memory Palace
The Ideas Project
Long Now Foundation
The School of Life
Letters of Note
The Wall Street Journal
The New Yorker
The New York Times
Oaktree Capital Memos
LSE Public Lectures
Eric Von Hippel
John Seely Brown
HBR – The Big Shift
Royal Society for the Arts
Best of Craigslist
Texts from Last Night