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January 18, 2011

Camelot Rises Again

Filed under: Kennedy Administration,White House — Peter Arnold

john kennedyJim Cicconi, former White House Deputy Chief of Staff and AT&T’s senior executive vice president, just posted this wonderful blog about the new online John F. Kennedy Presidential Library archives, launched to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the President’s inauguration.  (Disclosure: Yes, I’ve worked for Jim for more than a decade.)  Anyone interested in Presidential history should be as fascinated by these digitized records as Charles Darwin was by the Galapagos.

Even if the most famous line in JFK’s repertoire wasn’t quite an original, there is still an amazing amount of information online.  My favorite so far: the recorded call between Presidents Kennedy and Eisenhower on October 22, 1962, at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

So spend some time on the site and prepare to be amazed at how quickly a few minutes can turn into hours.

January 6, 2011

Spam is gone and other tech truisms

Filed under: America Online,Technology — Peter Arnold

willrogersAs the American philosopher Yogi Berra once said, It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.  And as the late Will Rogers (left) remarked, It isn’t what we don’t know that causes us trouble, it’s what we do know that just ain’t so.

In that vein, Cody Willard at Marketwatch just published a mildly amusing post, “Top 10 Dumbest Tech Predictions of All Time.”  A few entries are depressingly predictable such as comments disparaging the utility of the telephone or computer.  Overall, though, it’s worth reading as a window into the problems of lineal thinking when confronting a dynamic industry.

Alas, when it comes to technology ideas, there’s no shortage of bad ideas.  Remember Flooz?  Mercata?  Cyberrebates.com?  Didn’t think so.  Still, it’s worth adding two recent gems to Willard’s list including:

“By joining forces with Time Warner, we will fundamentally change the way people get information, communicate with others, buy products and are entertained – providing far-reaching benefits to our customers and shareholders.” That was Steve Case on January 10, 2000 announcing the AOL/TimeWarner merger that he and Ken Novack had been pushing.  Further comment superfluous.

“Two years from now, spam will be solved.” That was Bill Gates speaking to the BBC at Davos in 2004.  Alas, his prediction is just slightly off — to the tune of about 70 billion a day, according to this article in The New York Times.  It must’ve been the altitude.

This farce could go on and on since chronicling absurd tech predictions is like shooting fish in a barrel.  For the ultimate chronology of awful (and mostly hilarious) predictions, check out The Experts Speak by Chris Cerf and Victor Navasky.

January 4, 2011

Smart TV: A not-so-smart idea

Filed under: Technology — Peter Arnold

According to The Wall Street Journal, TV manufacturers are increasingly looking at bringing the Internet to your TV in order to create a more interactive experience.  Don’t bet on success.

A basic rule of marketing consumer products is that you won’t succeed by taking something simple and making it complex.  First, there is the ingrained consumer habit that TV watching is a passive experience.  It’s about entertainment.  Adding an Internet component inevitably adds complexity, starting with a new software system that consumers must master.  Combine that with the archaic copyright laws governing retransmission and you have a train wreck in the making.

Look no further than the reporting from The NY Times’ Ashlee Vance and Claire Miller on Google’s recent Google TV disaster to see the problem.

Second, recent consumer electronics trends are clear: It’s all about mobility.  Laptops have surged past desktops. Smartphones now comprise more than a third of the U.S. mobile phone market, likely to become a majority by this time next year.  The idea that your flat screen will become the focal point for social networking, commerce and other apps seems, at best, fanciful.

Third, there’s the shark in the water: Broadband connections mean virus/malware threats.  Smart TVs are already attracting hackers’ attention and the unspoken truth about most current “smart TVs” is that their defenses against this threat are woeful at best. As a practical matter, that means the Amazon link that suddenly appears on your TV screen is really routing you to a server in Novosibirsk.

Consumers already need to update their PCs and smartphones.  How many will relish the thought that they need to stay current on yet another product?

As the old marketing adage goes, Companies never succeed by taking something simple and making it complex.  (Mr. Ballmer, call your office about Windows 7.)   The Smart TV is a wonderful concept from a technological perspective.  Those who enjoy thumbing through user manuals will also like it.  But for most consumers?  Doubt it.