Thursday, 5 September 2013

Recommended Reading

A few things which have crossed my path this week include:

The Internet’s next victim: Advertising

As the internet continues to remake how we view industry as a concept, it seems like the end of effective advertising could be close.
“Everyone agrees that advertising on the Internet is broken,” says Till Faida, CEO of Adblock Plus, creator of by far the most popular ad-blocking software on the Web.
The soft-spoken German, visiting the San Francisco Bay Area to network and drum up support for his company’s “Acceptable Ads” initiative, sketches out a distressing scenario: Ads aren’t generating enough revenue, so websites are forced to run ever more “aggressive” ads — a maddening deluge of pop-ups, blinking banners, and autoplaying video and audio commercials. But as ads steadily become even more annoying, users click even less, forcing revenues down even further.
“This is creating a vicious circle, which will at some point lead to the whole system collapsing,” says Faida.
Faida believes he can help avoid that apocalyptic scenario. It might seem a little strange to hear that the CEO of a company whose main product is designed to quash ads is dedicated to the goal of saving advertising — certainly, the owners of websites whose revenues are crimped by Adblock Plus users could be excused for looking askance. But Faida believes that he can leverage Adblock Plus’ market power — the company claims 50 million active users — to create market incentives that force online advertisers to behave.
Here’s how Adblock Plus’ “Acceptable Ads” program works. The Adblock Plus “community” flags new ads as completely beyond the pale or as acceptable. A group of 200 or so “open source” volunteers then builds Adblock Plus filters designed to block ads that fall into both categories. But for most small websites, blogs or news sites, the “acceptable” ads are “whitelisted” by default. That means, they’ll go right through. They won’t be blocked. (Any Adblock Plus user can flip a switch, says Faida, that blocks all ads, but only about 6 percent of users follow through and do so.)
“Large companies,” says Faida, are held to a different standard. To pay for the cost of operating Adblock Plus for everyone, the company charges such companies a fee to participate in the “Acceptable Ads” program. If they pay the fee, their non-obtrusive, community-acceptable ads go through.
When I first learned of AdBlock Plus’ business model, I wrote a headline calling it a “pay-to-play” scheme. A P.R. person representing Adblock Plus named Mark Addison wrote me an email asking for a correction. I declined, largely because I couldn’t get a clear answer to my direct questions as to what would happen if a company such as Google refused to pay.
Bomb Syria?

First up - Congratulations on the ZenPundit team for getting their millionth pageview. Mark has some smart analysis on Syria and Responsibility to Protect
The driving insider force behind this astrategic call to arms are Susan Rice, Samantha Power and Anne-Marie Slaughter, the three Furies of R2P.  Slaughter writes on military intervention in Syria with her usual combination of moral certainty and operational magical thinking here. Rice angrily pontificates here while an unusually muted UN Ambassador Samantha Power just tweeted about it while on vacation from the emergency UN Security Council meeting on, uh, Syria.
The strategic argument about Syria is not about the normative qualities of the Assad regime, which is anti-American, brutal, terrorist supporting and fascistic. Or that the regime is committing atrocities. It is. It is about what political objective, if any, the use of military force against Syria can accomplish at what cost and with what probable outcomes. At a grand strategic level, there are also questions about how military intervention in Syria will impact great power relations and the shaping of international law.
I suspect many R2P advocates like Slaughter, Rice and Power are attracted to the idea of bombing Syria partly to garner a precedent to support doing similar things in the future, whether or not it has any positive effect on the Syrian civil war. That however, if true, is an extremely poor reason for military intervention anywhere. If bombing had some hope of changing the behavior of the Syrian regime or replacing it with something better, I would warm to the prospect but where is the evidence that is a likely outcome?
Working With Innovators From Thomas Edison To Steve Jobs, Corning Finds A Glass Fix

A company which truly understands how to innovate is Corning, the creators of (amongst hundreds of other things) Gorrilla Glass, a key part of most smartphones. The business depends on innovation for innovation's sake, finding a use for products after they've been created, creating need, rather than waiting for it to arise.
Was Gorilla Glass 3, then, discovered by accident? Gesturing at the bags behind him, Dejneka shakes his head. “There are no accidents.”
Those four words could sum up Corning’s 162-year history of continuous reinvention. No concoction is ever deemed an accident or a true failure since Corning believes in “patient capital,” the idea of investing in unproven technologies even if there’s no quick profit. The firm is rife with stories of inventions that sat on the shelves for decades until the right opportunity came along. The weather-resistant borosilicate glass designed for railroad signal lanterns gave rise to Pyrex cookware. The glass-ceramics technology the company invented called Pyro?ceram was used to make CorningWare casserole dishes and missile nose cones. It’s certainly the story of Gorilla Glass, invented in the 1960s and intended for car windshields and prison windows. Now it’s the surface of 1.5 billion smartphones and tablets–and Corning gets $3 for each one of those rectangles.
“We invent all sorts of stuff for weird reasons that then becomes something else,” says Adam Ellison, a Corning corporate research fellow and scientist who helped lead the Gorilla Glass project. Corning is all about “unique materials going through a unique process. That’s our future. That’s how we’re going to be around for another 162 years.”
Unlike so many once-mighty American manufacturers, Corning has survived several near-death experiences and bounced back in spectacular fashion with breakthrough inventions. In so doing it has single-handedly kept its eponymous town in New York, already hit by one of the highest unemployment rates in the state, on reasonably stable economic footing. The latest and worst moment was the dot-com crash of 2001, which wiped out the optical-fiber telecom industry, one of Corning’s biggest markets at the time. Its share price dropped from $113 to $1.10 as revenue fell from $6.9 billion in 2000 to $3.2 billion in 2002. It took a whopping $5.5 billion loss in 2001. Weighed down by $4 billion in debt, Corning cut jobs, started diversifying out of optic fiber and slashed research costs in half by moving most of its scientists back to headquarters to share equipment and ideas. From the array of ongoing projects they fast-tracked those with the greatest potential. Repeating history, they found a savior: a thin, strong glass that was ideal for LCD screens. That business came from nowhere and now accounts for nearly a third of its $7.6 billion in 2012 sales and 78% of its $1.6 billion in profit.
That's all for now, original content to follow later in the week.

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