Groupon 2.0

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Groupon is evolving from a crowdsourcing engine to drive customers to restaurants and retailers to a more targeted, time-sensitive tool.

Groupon Now offers two simple buttons – “I’m Hungry” and “I’m Bored.” The idea is simple – to match people in real time and place to establishments looking to get rid of excess goods. Here’s an example:

It’s only 11 a.m. Mason clicks the “hungry” button, and his phone transmits its location to Groupon’s servers and then displays a list of deals from nearby restaurants. Across a bridge spanning the Chicago River, the Asian fusion restaurant Thalia Spice is testing Groupon Now by offering $20 worth of food for $12. A block to the north, an eatery named @ Spot Café is dangling a $10 coupon for $6. Each restaurant has specified that its discount is good only during select hours on that particular day, when a few of their tables would otherwise be empty.

And that, Mason declares as he taps his phone and purchases $8 of savings from Thalia Spice, could turn Groupon into a combination Yellow Pages, Valpak coupon packet, and price-conscious concierge for millions of consumers. “People could end up being driven to eat by what they find on Groupon and when they find it,” he beams.

The advantage for restaurants is pretty obvious, but very significant.

Unlike Groupon’s daily deals, which tend to generate a flood of customers, Groupon Now might lure just a few, but at the right time. Rob Solomon, Groupon’s president, says the true promise of Groupon Now is to help eliminate perishable inventory—food ingredients, labor hours, and anything else that’s wasted if not used immediately. “If we can eliminate 10 percent of perishability, we can change the dynamics for small business owners,” he says. Small businesses would become more like airlines, matching supply against demand to maximize revenues. “If we get this right,” Solomon says, “we are going to influence what tens of millions of people are buying at a frequency that we have never seen before.”

Imagine sushi restaurants in particular. Sushi fans are familiar with half-price sushi nights, and naturally the restaurant cycles its inventory to get rid of the perishable food on those nights. But now they can do flash deals during the week – like all-you-can eat salmon sushi if they have excess inventory they’ll have to toss the next day.

These ideas aren’t really that new, but Groupon’s reach and restaurant contacts put the company in a position to take the most advantage of these types of apps.

Digital study guides gain in popularity

With smart phones and now tablet computers like the iPad, students have so much more information at their fingertips, including digital study guides that can make it easier to study, or to avoid real studying.

At this time of year, students are buying textbooks and looking for ways to avoid reading them.

Nothing is new about that. CliffsNotes guides, with their familiar yellow and black covers, have been in book bags since 1958.

What has changed is how many study guides, or cheat sheets, are available online and on mobile phones. Whether you know them as CliffsNotes, SparkNotes or Shmoop, these seemingly ubiquitous guides are now, in many cases, free.

“Two to three years ago, the wisdom was that students do research online, but not study online,” said Emily Sawtell, a founder of McGraw-Hill’s online collaborative study site called GradeGuru. “That has changed in the last 12 months.” Ms. Sawtell said she had tracked a significant increase in the search term “study guide” on Google.

All in all, this is a net plus, as access to information is always a good thing, though it can obviously be abused. The real challenge is to train younger students how to focus on a subject without distractions so real learning takes place.

CEO Steve Jobs introduces the new iPhone 4


Photo from fOTOGLIF

Apple CEO Steve Jobs poses with the new iPhone 4 during the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco. The new features are quite impressive as Apple builds upon the momentum from the iPad.

Meanwhile, many app developers are worried as AT&T will no longer be offering unlimited data plans. I can see the concern, as users don’t want to worry about what they are consuming. The beauty of many apps is that they are free, or they are so cheap that the decision to purchase is insignificant. This may upset the balance, no matter how good the iPhone gets.

Guarding the app store

Is Apple going too far with some of its restrictive policies surrounding the approval of apps, or is Apple just having a hard time setting the rules for something that exploded in popularity? I guess we’ll find out in due time as Apple’s policies evolve, but in the meantime Apple is on the receiving end of some tough criticism.

An app store lets companies tap into ideas from third-party innovators while retaining firm control over their brands. And that’s both its charm and its flaw. “The way Apple runs the App Store has harmed its reputation with programmers more than anything else they’ve ever done,” wrote Paul Graham, cofounder of the venture firm Y Combinator, on his blog.

The central problem is Apple’s heavy-handed management: Nothing gets into Apple’s store without the company’s express approval. Its restrictions have pushed several high-profile developers to quit the iPhone, and have bred ill will with the programmers who’ve remained. Apple may feel it has room to misbehave. No other phone can offer developers anywhere near the number of customers to be found in the App Store, so what choice do they have?

That’s a miscalculation, because the App Store’s true rival isn’t a competing app marketplace. Rather, it’s the open, developer-friendly Web. When Apple rejected Google Latitude, the search company’s nearby-friend-mapping program, developers created a nearly identical version that works perfectly on the iPhone’s Web browser. Google looks to be doing something similar with Voice, another app that Apple barred from its store. Last fall, Joe Hewitt, the Facebook developer who created the social network’s iPhone app, quit developing for Apple in protest of the company’s policies. Where did he go? Back to writing mobile apps for Web browsers.

Apple’s app bonanza won’t end anytime soon, but you’d be a fool to ignore the long-term trend in software — away from incompatible platforms and restrictive programming regimes, and toward write-once, run-anywhere code that works on a variety of devices, without interference from middlemen. As different kinds of mobile devices hit the market, from phones to tablet PCs to smartpens to e-book readers and beyond, developers will find that trend harder to ignore. They’ll need to create programs that can work not just on iPhones but on everything. Fortunately, there’s an app for that: It’s called the Web.

Apple is riding an incredible wave of success with iPhone apps, and things will only get more hectic with the introduction of the iPad that goes on sale tomorrow. Apple needs to redouble its efforts to control this situation in a manner that is fair to all participants.

Magazines and the iPad

Commentators have been debating whether online news and opinion articles should be put behind pay walls to help the struggling publishing industry, but developments like the introduction of the iPad by Apple will make many of these discussions moot.

With the iPad and other tablets, publishers now have a new option with loads of potential, with the ability to send out electronic versions of their print magazines with colorful ads. Then, by adding interactivity and video, the ads can become more engaging and much more effective. This story from the WSJ offers a glimpse of what’s to come.

Time magazine has signed up Unilever, Toyota Motor, Fidelity Investments and at least three others for marketing agreements priced at about $200,000 apiece for a single ad spot in each of the first eight issues of the magazine’s iPad edition, according to people familiar with the matter.

At Condé Nast Publications, Wired magazine is offering different levels of ad functionality depending on how many pages of ads a marketer buys, according to a person familiar with the matter. Advertisers that agree to buy eight pages of ads in a single issue of Wired magazine will be able to lace video and other extra features through the iPad version, say people familiar with the matter.

Magazines largely are planning downloadable iPad applications that are near-replicas of the stories in the print versions, but they are demonstrating the new-media bells and whistles for advertisers: add-ons like videos, social-networking tools and navigation that take advantage of the large screen, touch technology and Internet connections of the tablet computer.

Time Inc.’s Sport Illustrated has been showing advertisers three video-heavy ad prototypes, including one for a Ford Mustang that includes an arcade-style driving game using the tilt-and-turn capability of the iPad. With a few touches to the screen, readers can pick paint colors and wheel styles for cars they might want to buy.

“Some of the things you can do are just mind blowing,” says Steve Pacheco, FedEx’s director of advertising. “You are taking something that used to be flat on a page and making it interactive and have it jump off the page.”

Magazine publishers see the device as crucial to their future as they scour for new ways to make money, with print advertising still under threat. Digital advertising has been a disappointment for many publishers, but with the iPad they feel they have a technology that best marries the splashy look and size of a full-page print ad with the cool interactive features of a digital ad—and the ability to count how many people saw it.

As I’ve argued before, a pay for delivery model makes much more sense for advertisers when compared to a pay wall. Pay walls can severely hurt a publication’s popularity, as many users will not be interested in paying for content and most bloggers won’t link to a story behind a pay wall. But, I suspect many users will pay for the convenience of being able to download a beautifully laid out magazine on a device like the iPad. They’ll even pay for a black and white version on their Kindle. Imagine having all your favorite magazines loaded up on your device when you board your flight, along with the books you’ve been waiting to read.

These changes are inevitable, and I expect most publishers and large brand advertisers to jump on this trend.

Aaron Baar of Marketing Daily agrees that the iPad will be transformational for the publishing business.

Q: Is the iPad the savior of the publishing industry?

A: We do believe it will be transformational for newspaper and magazine publishers. Whether it will save the business or not is a different story, but we definitely think it will put a new face to the way consumers can actually interact with print content as well as advertising within print content. It kind of gives the industry a breath of fresh air.

The iPad “provokes” customer responses. Naturally, part of that is because the format os relatively new. But the interactive qualities will mean this effect will have considerable staying power.

Need a Financial Help? Got an I-Phone?

There seems to be a smart phone application for just about every purpose under the sun. If you’ve got a possible need, some tech guru is busy right now making sure that you’ll have a smart phone application that will meet that need. Need airline tickets? There is an app. Need a date for the company party? There is one for that, too. So, it was inevitable that we would have apps for financial needs, but selecting the best money management apps for your phone can pose some problems. There are simply too many to choose from.

Which finance-related app will work best for you will depend on what you’re trying to accomplish with it. There are apps for monitoring stock prices and some that even allow you to buy and sell via your mobile device. Other apps offer financial solutions ranging from long-term retirement planning to apps that help in obtaining fast and much needed cash loans for those unexpected emergencies. Finance related applications for smart phones are sometimes as easy to use as looking up an address, or they can be as complicated as a foreign encyclopedia. Shop and compare, and don’t be afraid to ask people questions about which ones provide them with a quality application.

To select the best smart phone applications for money matters, you should look for the name behind the app. Those that are developed by companies with solid reputations in their area of expertise are probably the smarter buy for your money. Still, they can be more costly, too. Since the smart phone, like the web, is an open market for entrepreneurs who have their own items to sell, check out any app purchases carefully. Look for a highly rated app with sound customer support. After all, you want your apps to help you with your financial situation, not ones that create problems for you financially.

Apple bans some racy apps without notice

Apple has been the darling of the tech crowd for years, but will they remain so if they keep acting like dicks?

Apple’s App Store has become a huge money-making opportunity for developers, but now Apple is starting to behave in a way that can piss off the developer community. Banning apps without notice, while leaving alone similar apps from huge companies like Sports Illustrated and Playboy, will definitely get some attention.

Apple has started banning many applications for its iPhone that feature sexually suggestive material, including photos of women in bikinis and lingerie, a move that came as an abrupt surprise to developers who had been profiting from such programs.

The company’s decision to remove the applications from its App Store over the last few days indicates that it is not interested in giving up its tight control over the software available there, even as competitors like Google take a more hands-off approach.

* * *
Many software developers have long complained about Apple’s strict screening process and, at times, seemingly arbitrary decisions about what was acceptable in the App Store. The company’s latest move, which was first reported by TechCrunch, did little to change their minds.

Fred Clarke, co-president of a small software company called On the Go Girls, which made Sexy Scratch Off, said that as of Monday all 50 of his company’s applications were no longer available. They included an application in which a woman wearing a swimsuit appeared to wipe finger marks from the iPhone’s screen with a rag and spray bottle.

“I’m shocked,” said Mr. Clarke, who said the company had not had a problem with its applications since the first one went on sale last June. “We’re showing stuff that’s racier than the Disney Channel, but not by much.”

Mr. Clarke said his company had been earning thousands of dollars a day from the App Store.

“It’s very hard to go from making a good living to zero,” he said. “This goes farther than sexy content. For developers, how do you know you aren’t going to invest thousands into a business only to find out one day you’ve been cut off?”

So what’s the standard here? Babes in bikinis are OK, but only if they come from a big company like SI?

MG Siegler blasts Apple for its hypocrisy in a scathing post on TechCrunch, but as he points out this will probably blow over as long as Apple continues to dominate this market. That said, we’re seeing a significant backlash against their arbitrary policies. Let’s hope more people call them out on it.

Social media fail – Pepsi alienates female audience with “pick-up” app

Pepsi ought to leave the dating scene to the pick-up artists. Their attempt to create a humorous app has resulted in an epic fail.

When it comes to dating, the difference between success and failure often comes down to delivery. And as Pepsi Co. learned this week, even a good bit of self-deprecation can’t fix a poorly executed pick up line.

Pepsi’s AMP energy drink released a new app — “Amp Up Before You Score” — which got into trouble with more than a few people for the way it approached the fairer sex.

Pepsi quickly took to social media to apologize, but by broadcasting the apology across platforms and brands (and including a self-deprecating hashtag), Pepsi helped turn the tkt into a tempest.

“Before You Score” categorizes women into 24 types — including “Cougar,” “bookworm,” “treehugger” and “rebound girl” — and then gives users conversational resources, namely wikipedia articles and other superficial info to help with pickup lines. In an additional layer of sensitivity, the app connects to social media so that users can share their conquests: “Get lucky? Add her to your Brag List. You can include a name, date and whatever details you remember.”

In one sense I give them credit for trying. Brands need to find new ways to reach their audience, but this effort is just hilarious.

Google Wave mania

Google Wave sounds VERY cool.

Google is about to hit a milestone for a product that the search giant hopes will transform how people communicate and collaborate online, and perhaps hook more users on Google’s menu of web based services.

Google Wave, which combines elements of email, instant messaging and social networking to allow groups of people to collaborate on a task in real time, will be previewed starting to more than 100,000 developers and users who have signed up to try Wave and give Google feedback on how well it works.

* * *

Wave users running Ribbit’s applications could, for example, hold a telephone conference that would connect through any kind of voice communication – a mobile phone, a land line or voice-over-internet – and then store a recording of the resulting conversation as an audio file or transcribe the conversation into a text document embedded in the Wave.

Another application Google demonstrated on its blog included a group of friends in scattered locations using the online version of the Lonely Planet guides to plan a trip to Australia through Wave, searching out attractions in Melbourne with Google maps, reading Lonely’s Planet’s description of those places, messaging their thoughts with the rest of the group, and collectively writing up a day-by-day itinerary, within one wave.

The idea here is real-time collaboration on the web. For many of us who have “virtual companies” with workers working remotely in different locations, Google Wave could revolutionize how we work.

There are some issues with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (big surprise) but it’s supposed to work well with other major browsers.

A demonstration is available here.

Google has sent out a bunch of invites for people to use the beta version of the product, and naturally people are all over this on Twitter, as some are trying to sell their invitations – #googlewave.

Federal government embraces cloud computing

This is an encouraging story.

On Tuesday, Vivek Kundra, the federal chief information officer, unveiled Apps.Gov, a Web site where federal agencies will able to buy so-called cloud computing applications and services that have been approved by the government to replace more costly and cumbersome computing services at their own locations.

The push to promote cloud computing is part of the Obama administration’s effort to modernize the government’s information technology systems and to help reduce the $75 billion annual budget for federal I.T. in the process.

The apps storefront, which is run by the General Services Administration, includes an array of business applications, productivity software, services like storage and Web hosting and social applications. In a speech at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, Mr. Kundra said that the cloud offerings could be cheaper and more energy-efficient and allow the federal government to benefit from the same technological advances that most consumers enjoy.

Wow. Is it possible that we finally have an administration that embraces technology and the Internet? Can you imagine how much money our government wastes on inefficient systems and hardware?

Assuming they can manage the security issues, this could be a huge benefit for the government, making it more efficient, more effective, and cheaper as well.

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