Why Facebook Bought Instagram: The Secret Ingredient

One word: Kids. I haven’t validated the stats yet, but here’s anecdotal evidence from a flock of 13-year-old seventh graders. I first learned of Instagram from my daughter, an avid iPhone user, about seven months ago. I couldn’t figure out the attraction. She filled me in:

  1. Many of her friends don’t use Facebook. More accurately, many of her friends are NOT ALLOWED to use Facebook; forbidden by their parents. Parents ban Facebook because they fear predators or time-sucks. Those same parents don’t realize their kids will simply find an alternative. Especially when they give their kids smartphones with data plans.
  2. All of her friends have iPhones, almost universally.
  3. Instagram was easy to use, much simpler and more immediate than Facebook’s iPhone app. Teenagers crave immediate feedback and validation.

I’ll add a fourth factor:

  • Kids crave an alternate social playground that their uncool parents don’t occupy. And all us uncool parents are by now on Facebook, as are all the grandparents. And when we’re allowed to link to our kids, we’re tagging our kids in photos, posting on their wall messages with cute smiley’s, etc. Can you imagine anything worse for a 13-year-old than public posts from their parents – which their friends can see?
    (Here’s my post from 2006 on this effect on MySpace: MySpace is Dead – Parents Stop Worrying )

Facebook figured out that they risked losing a large and growing user base – the tweens who constantly look for the “next big thing”, and so bought Instagram to pull that user base into the fold.  I predict this will be a constant initiative for Facebook — as it matures, every year or so it will need to acquire younger businesses who bring in new or younger user bases, eventually folding them into the Facebook master site.  This is probably their best bet to avoid the fate of Friendster, MySpace, AOL, Yahoo, etc.

[Updated May 31, 2012 from Los Angeles Times:  "Some teens aren't liking Facebook as much as older users":

Facebook itself is no longer an adolescent. At 8, it's getting long in the tooth for a social network. And for some teens, the novelty has worn off.

"Facebook is just not the big fad anymore," said Kim Franklin, a 15-year-old from Gaithersburg, Md., who does not have a Facebook account and prefers social media site Tumblr. "It was like everybody was constantly on there, but now not so much."

I rest my case, so far...]

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Khan Academy Makes E-learning Exciting – Is This Possible?

Khan Academy is coming close to home. One of my kid’s schools has been selected for a pilot test of middle- and high-school math classes based on the Khan system. It’s a one-year test run by the Math Department Head himself, working directly with Khan. The pilot came about based on an initiative taken by a junior student at school! And this is not a struggling school (at least not based on the extraordinary tuition we have to pay), rather they are embracing change to see if they can make an already successful school even more so – and for every child.

My title above is misleading because in fact, Salman Khan has inadvertently launched a revolution in EDUCATION, and e-learning just happens to be a part of his system. An authentic grass-roots e-learning initiative, started by an individual, Khan, has blossomed into a full-scale movement to improve education, which is getting noticed by mainstream media, attracting donations from hi-tech foundations and splitting educators. Like President Bush’s famous quote, “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists,” traditional educators are polarized between embracing the new technology and dismissing it as a naive amateur attempt.

Here’s the real deal: Khan’s videos and methodology work (so far) because they are simple, hokey, deliberately non-corporate and non-polished. Yet they are also Web 2.0 – with a real “cool” factor. There’s no product marketing committee making sure every video has a politically correct, watered down mix of messages. They look like your hip uncle explaining algebra to you over Skype. Which is actually how the videos started out.

While gaining 68,000,000+ views on YouTube of his 2,400+ videos, Khan has formed a non-profit with funding from Gates Foundation, Google and others with the mission to make effective education free for the whole world. Now that’s a “reach goal”, if there ever was one.

Students watch videos (e.g. mini lectures) and complete online assessments at their own pace, and then interact with their teachers and other students while doing “homework” in class. Web 2.0 dashboards and progress tracking enables teachers to track exactly which students need specific help. I’ve done this myself (with 57,000 points earned!):

Screen shot of Khan Academy dashboard

Sample progress dashboard for a student (me) in the Khan Academy.

My teenage son introduced me to Khan’s videos when he was searching for algebra help on YouTube a couple years ago. That the young generation is spontaneously drawn to Khan’s videos is evidence enough for me that Khan is on to something. When my son searches for help on any topic, he uses YouTube, not Google text search. This is very different form how older generations search on the web.

Traditional educational content publishers (think Pearson or McGraw-Hill) have attempted to create compelling online education for years – and have failed repeatedly. I think because they are trying to satisfy committees, shareholders and traditional educators. Not the students themselves. Instead, Khan started with the students (his nieces and nephews, in fact) and evolved an educational system from that starting point.

We’ll see over the coming years if Khan Academy’s system begins to show repeatable, significant positive results with no long-term negative consequences. Plenty of traditional teachers are skeptical. But it’s worth a try. I’m relieved (and proud) that my kid’s school has the collective self-confidence and leadership to be at the forefront.

To try Khan yourself, see www.KhanAcademy.org or www.Youtube.com/khanacademy

Good mainstream article in Wired Magazine:  www.wired.com/magazine/2011/07/ff_khan/
(Wired August 2011 edition, published online July 15, 2011)

Article in Fast Company magazine:  www.FastCompany.com/1728471/change-generation-bill-gates-favorite-teacher-wants-to-disrupt-education
February 16, 2011

[Addendum:  Article in The Economist 17-Sept-2011,  "Flipping the Classroom":  www.economist.com/node/21529062 ]

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Google Gets Marketing – Chrome

I’ve criticized Google before about creating great products but ignoring them with poor marketing and promotion so that they die on the vine. Well, Google is finally amping up its marketing mojo with Chrome.

Starting this month, Google rolled out a series of TV commercials promoting its Chrome browser (and soon to be OS). Chrome is positioned as the centerpiece of all the Google features (Gmail, YouTube, etc.) No big deal, except that the commercials ooze sentimentality and inspiration, as well as showing the power of Google products. You cannot help but be mesmerized by them. Not unlike the Apple iPad commercials showing sample apps – but Google is way more powerful because it’s actually a network with depth and breadth far exceeding Apple.

Kudos to Google’s agency BBH – Bartle Bogle Hegarty, LLC in New York and the star power they’ve assembled. Game on, Apple! (sorry Microsoft. . .)

1. Google Chrome: It Gets Better
982,000 views in 24 days – fair growth
Making a serious subject accessible and hip to discuss.

2. Google Chrome: Dear Sophie
1.1 million views in 24 days – very good growth
My wife tears up every time she sees this!

3.  Google Chrome: Lady Gaga
1.1 million views in 5 days – wow – the power of Mother Monster?
Love the music, and I cannot stop looking at Lady Gaga no matter how hard I try. The new generation’s Madonna.

Google Mashes Up Fan Videos for Lady Gaga Spot:
http://www.adweek.com/adfreak/google-mashes-fan-videos-lady-gaga-spot-131913

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Farewell Yahoo Small Business Hosting

Today I finally rid myself of the last components of Yahoo Small Business Hosting. Though a faithful customer for five years (at $19.95/month!), I have seen Yahoo’s hosting performance deteriorate, features poorly/inconsistently implemented, and crippled Blackberry/iPhone integration. I have seen the light, and it is (for now)… Google Apps. I feel strangely liberated – and I have regained control over my online presence.

It started out fine in 2006:  I registered my kbhayes.com domain at Yahoo, created a WordPress blog, used the business webmail, set up my business/family calendars, and synchronized everything to my Blackberry via my PC.

Soon, Yahoo started re-designing their modules (for example, Contacts and Calendar; see Yahoo Jumps Shark Again). But although they tried to implement fancy Web 2.0 features, they dropped useful features that I used. They bogged down the performance and muddled the user interface. And added banner ads to a service I already paid for.

Last year, my WordPress blog began to disappear from the web a couple times per month, requiring a personal call from me to an escalated tech support rep who had to regenerate my SQL database – and acknowledged that Yahoo commonly had problems keeping blogs running on their servers. Not to mention that it would take 4-5 seconds for my blog homepage to appear, when it did work.

Finally, Yahoo was unable to integrate e-mail folders and multiple calendars on my Blackberry. These features were implemented in 2010 for single Yahoo users, but not the Small Business users, i.e. paying customers.  The last straw was when my Blackberry would no longer synch via my PC with Yahoo Calendar – since Yahoo apparently changed the data format of calendar entries. Without telling Blackberry users.

Through all this, the Yahoo / AT&T online support system and documentation were consistently out of synch with the features in their systems. Really comforting to receive an “Error 404 – Page Not Found” from their help system when clicking on their own help links!?! Yahoo doesn’t have their act together.

So farewell Yahoo. Good riddance. Google, I’ll give you a chance.

Over my five years as a customer, Yahoo stock dropped by 52% and Google rose over 55%. Coincidence?

P.S. I have already migrated from Yahoo to GoDaddy for domain management, HostGator for WordPress hosting and Google Apps for e-mail, calendar, contacts and iPhone integration. More news shortly on how I did it.

Posted in Internet, Rants | 3 Comments

Will Apple get Microshafted by Google?

Having lived through Apple’s entire corporate history (and still own IPO shares), I see the writing on the wall – history will repeat itself 25 years later.  This time, it will be Google spoiling Apple, not Microsoft.  I just got back from CES in Las Vegas with this first-hand revelation.

Quick history:  in the early 1980’s, Apple’s Lisa / Macintosh operating system and graphical, mouse-driven user interface were the leading innovations in personal computers.  The hardware worked with the operating system which worked with the applications.  So far, so good. Along comes Microsoft acquiring MS-DOS, licensing it first to IBM and then every other PC manufacturer (remember Compaq, DEC, Kaypro, etc?) and eventually to all the “clone” manufacturers.  Market share of DOS soared and eclipsed Apple, stuck at under 10% of personal computer units.  Apple’s policy of not licensing their OS ensured a superior user experience for their “few” users, but forever limited potential growth by denying other manufacturers the ability to provide it on their hardware.  One manufacturer would never have been able to meet the exploding market demand.

The consequences for Apple were almost fatal. Besides falling market share, from early 1981 through 1997, Apple stock FELL a total of 6%.   Microsoft rose 14,800%. What a bummer to be an Apple shareholder. In the 2000’s, Apples fortunes turned around with the iPod and iPhone in particular.  From 1998 through 2010, Apple rose 8,085% and Microsoft only 58%. (But you’d still have been better off holding MSFT the entire time.)

So, is all well in Apple land?

Walking the 2011 CES (Consumer Electronics Show) floor last week, two observations struck me hard, well three.  First, although Apple does not exhibit, their dominance of the entire mobile accessories / integration market is clear. I saw hundreds of booths selling cases, stands, boom-boxes, devices for the iPhone / iPad / iPod platform. No other single platform, alas, not even all other devices combined, has created such an ecosystem of add-on manufacturers.  That’s good news for Apple.

Second, Windows on mobile devices seemed non-existent. Microsoft came out with tablet versions of Windows years ago. Almost nowhere to be found at CES. Except at the Microsoft booth. The same goes for Blackberry. Okay, they’re business-oriented, but hey, the consumer market is moving upstream into business, and they’re losing out. Consumers are buying smartphones and expecting business quality services on them.

Third, and most important, Google-powered Android tablets and phones were EVERYWHERE. The entire Hilton pavilion was full of mainland Chinese manufacturers selling all styles of white-label tablets. Every single one was powered by Android. Apple is projected to sell 50m iPads worldwide in 2011, but I predict that nearly every tablet Not sold by Apple will be running Android. Of the big names, Sony, Panasonic, Dell, Asus, Samsung, Toshiba were all showing Android tablets. I believe market demand will outstrip Apple’s supply, and the cheaper price point of Android devices, and their variety, will fuel tremendous growth.

Although the Android OS is still rough around the edges, and the iPhone provides a superior user experience, I think Google will catch up within a couple development cycles. At that point, Google will overtake the Apple platform in sheer numbers. Google has a lot of cash and a disruptive revenue model.  Is Apple doomed to repeat history? I hope not. Or I gotta sell my stock now…

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