Archive for the ‘Web Business’ Category

MBTA Trip Planner

March 23, 2007

tsign.jpgBoston’s public transportation system just got an awesome new tool. It is a web-based trip planner that works just like MapQuest driving directions—only instead of driving directions, you get directions by bus, train, and foot. You input a departure time (sadly, no option for desired arrival time), and the trip planner uses official bus and train schedules to figure out the fastest way to go.

The system has gotten mostly lukewarm press since its initial buggy launch on December 15. But I found it to work extremely well. It inspired me enough to order a CharlieCard for the first time. We’ll see how much I actually use it.

If the MBTA does add wireless access, email alerts, and real-time GPS bus location data to the system as promised, Boston’s public transportation will become dramatically more convenient. Imagine if there were a button you could push on your cell phone that would tell you (using your phone’s GPS location) how long before the next bus would arrive at the nearest bus stop. What about an application that would send your cell phone a text message at the exact time when you should pick up and leave your office because the bus for your commute home is five minutes away up the street? There may come a time when we see a virtuous cycle of increased convenience leading to increased ridership leading to increased routes and schedules, etc.

The new web site was built by RDVO, a Massachusetts company, at a cost of $400,000. That is a lot of money for a web site, even for a $1.3 billion enterprise like the MBTA. But in this age of global warming, I feel strongly that the new site is a step in the right direction. Perhaps other cities that do not have a system like it can benefit from the investment Boston has made.

Flash Business

March 21, 2007

I have puzzled for many years over Macromedia’s (and now Adobe’s) Flash business model: They allow anyone to compete freely with the Flash authoring tool (which they sell for money), but one must pay for the right to compete with the Flash player (which they give away for free). Hindsight tells us that the model works, because it has helped make Flash the standard for rich Internet applications. But I have always marveled that Adobe makes enough money selling a paltry few authoring tools and that they don’t mind giving away hundreds of millions of copies of the player for free.

Many pundits (most recently Ted Leung and Anne Zelenka) worry that Adobe’s control of the Flash standard is bad for the web. They are hoping Adobe will hand control of the standard over to the open source community. The concern is that so much power should not rest in one company’s hands—the company will be tempted to abuse it.ring.jpeg

The response from Adobe’s evangelists (e.g. Andrew Shebanow, Duane Nickull) is essentially “we’re trustworty Hobbits—the One Ring of Power is not going to corrupt us.”

But companies must act in the best interests of their shareholders. Adobe should do and probably will do whatever will profit them the most. The question of what is best for the web community is only relevant as it affects Adobe’s bottom line.

Adobe’s own annual report says that they intend to “explore monetization opportunities” for the Flash Player and Adobe Reader (p. 21). My opinion: if they even hint at charging money for the player, that standard will be gone…well, in a flash.

Fight Sites

February 1, 2007

argument.jpegMichael Arrington just posted about a slew of startups that, in a Web 2.0 twist on the Monty Python Argument Clinic, are trying to monetize the apparently boundless appetite for online bickering. The latest is—a place that reminds me of the hallway of my freshman dorm.

Web 2.0 Enterprise Forum

January 11, 2007

catfight.gifTechcrunch, the Web 2.0 news blog (and number 3 highest ranked blog on Technorati), just announced a new forum on their site called “Company Reviews.” It is a simple concept: entrepreneurs post descriptions of their Web 2.0 startups, and everybody else rips them to shreds. Speaking as an ex-angel investor, this is high entertainment.

It reminds me a lot of the M.I.T. Enterprise Forum, only webified.

Peerflix, What Have you Done?

December 19, 2006

Wow. The old Peerflix is gone. The new one is…not so appealing to me.

With the old Peerflix, I felt I was buying DVDs for $1.50 each (99 cents to Peerflix plus 51 cents postage)—much less than the cost of a rental at Blockbuster. The Peerflix trading currency, “Peerbux,” was like Monopoly money. Perhaps that was an illusion, but it worked for me.

The new Peerflix is all about real money. You buy DVDs for real money. You sell DVDs for real money. I never did that before. I don’t think I want to do it now.


Peerflix vs. Netflix

October 27, 2006

Most of my friends know that I am a rabid Peerflix fan. Hey, everyone has to have a hobby, right? 🙂 My apologies to my old high school pal, Reed Hastings, the founder of Netflix. Reed, I love you, too. And I am also a Netflix customer. But Peerflix—what an idea!

Netflix has to run distribution centers around the country where DVD mailers get opened and re-stuffed. Netflix has to print the mailers and pay for postage. Netflix has to buy the DVDs in the first place.

Peerflix, on the other hand, is just a web site. Peerflix has no distribution centers. Customers print their own mailers on their own printers and mail them directly to the next customer in line. Peerflix gets paid $0.99 for every DVD that gets traded!

Each service has advantages and disadvantages from the customer’s point of view. Netflix has the advantage that you can get whatever you want whenever you want it. But with Netflix, I feel pressured to get my money’s worth. If I don’t watch the DVDs I have and send them back quickly, I’m wasting money (because I pay by the month—regardless of how many DVDs I watch). The last thing I want is pressure to watch more TV!

With Peerflix, there is no time pressure. You own all the DVDs you have, and you can keep them forever if you want without any cost.

But Peerflix has its own peculiar downsides. Some titles are on many “Have” lists and few “Want” lists. These titles will arrive quickly if you put them on your “Want” list. Then, it will be hard to get rid of them. Depending on how lopsided the supply/demand is, you might get stuck with the title forever. In which case, you cannot replenish your “Peerbux” by trading it away. Other titles have the opposite problem: they are on many “Want” lists and few “Have” lists. These titles will take forever to get sent to you. The best titles are the happy medium ones that are plentiful enough to get to you in the first place, but will also be tradable after you are finished with them.

One thing I will say for Peerflix is that it has caused me to buy DVDs for the first time in my life. If I read the description on a movie and I really want to see it, but there are 0 copies available on Peerflix—I’ll look for it on Ebay or used on Amazon and buy it. If I feel it is a must-see, and it is worth a lot of Peerbux, and it is not available used, I’ll even buy it new. My psychology goes like this: “Hey, I have saved way more than 20 bucks on Peerflix already. Plus, I can easily trade this and get Peerbux when I’m done.”

Every time I buy another DVD—used or new—I expand the size of my in-house library—even after I trade it away (because trading away earns Peerbux that enable me to receive more titles from my “Want” list). I now have about 25 DVDs at home that I have not yet seen! That is incredible! How much would I have to pay EVERY MONTH at Netflix to have 25 DVDs at a time?

So here is a topic for you to discuss amongst yourselves: will Peerflix ever be as popular as Netflix? Or is Omar a looney-bird? Or both?

P.S. I forgot to credit Jackie Shadrake with turning me on to Peerflix. Thanks, Jackie! 🙂

P.P.S. I just found a wealth of posts about Peerflix on Brad Templeton’s blog.