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Verizon to go ahead with bid for Yahoo as Google mulls offer

Yahoo’s sale “book” indicates a company in a financial free fall

What Yahoo investors can look forward to prior to shareholder meeting

As layoffs proceed, Yahoo’s head of hiring bails on CEO Marissa Mayer

Verizon Communications will reportedly make a bid to buy Yahoo’s Web business next week and Google may bid for the Sunnyvale online company’s core business.

Bloomberg cited unnamed sources on those two potential Yahoo suitors. Its sources also said that AT&T, Comcast and Microsoft have decided against bidding.

Bloomberg said that Time Inc. is reportedly still evaluating a bid and private equity funds Bain and TPG — among others — are also planning to enter the action, either alone or by backing a strategic acquirer.

First-round bids for the company’s main Web assets are reportedly due on Monday.

Verizon is said to be willing to acquire the Yahoo’s stake in Yahoo Japan Corp., figured to be worth about $8.5 billion, to help sweeten its offer. It may then give the Yahoo Japan stake to its shareholders or sell it.

Another potential player is Japan’s SoftBank Group, which is the majority owner of Yahoo Japan. But discussions there have reportedly centered around Softbank wanting to get a lower licensing fee before any sale, not in buying the rest of the shares in the company.

Verizon and its subsidiary AOL are working with at least three financial advisers on its bid, Bloomberg’s sources said. The company said late last year that it was interested in bidding for Yahoo and hiring so many bankers makes it appear that it is very serious about that.

Bloomberg’s sources said that Verizon values Yahoo’s core business at less than $8 billion, based on the financial information that it’s seen.

If successful, Verizon reportedly would replace Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer with AOL CEO Tim Armstrong and Marni Walden, Verizon’s executive vice president, who would run a combined Yahoo and AOL.

Re/code reported on Wednesday that a Yahoo slide deck that has been shown to potential buyers projects that its revenue will drop by almost 15 percent and earnings by more than 20 percent for 2016.

Cromwell Schubarth is TechFlash Editor at the Silicon Valley Business Journal.

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Article from WSJ Online.

It looks so easy from the outside. An entrepreneur with a hot technology and venture-capital funding becomes a billionaire in his 20s.

But now there is evidence that venture-backed start-ups fail at far higher numbers than the rate the industry usually cites.

About three-quarters of venture-backed firms in the U.S. don’t return investors’ capital, according to recent research by Shikhar Ghosh, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School.

The Wall Street Journal reveals its third annual ranking of the top 50 start-ups in the U.S. backed by venture capitalists.

Compare that with the figures that venture capitalists toss around. The common rule of thumb is that of 10 start-ups, only three or four fail completely. Another three or four return the original investment, and one or two produce substantial returns. The National Venture Capital Association estimates that 25% to 30% of venture-backed businesses fail.

Mr. Ghosh chalks up the discrepancy in part to a dearth of in-depth research into failures. “We’re just getting more light on the entrepreneurial process,” he says.

His findings are based on data from more than 2,000 companies that received venture funding, generally at least $1 million, from 2004 through 2010. He also combed the portfolios of VC firms and talked to people at start-ups, he says. The results were similar when he examined data for companies funded from 2000 to 2010, he says.

Venture capitalists “bury their dead very quietly,” Mr. Ghosh says. “They emphasize the successes but they don’t talk about the failures at all.”

There are also different definitions of failure. If failure means liquidating all assets, with investors losing all their money, an estimated 30% to 40% of high potential U.S. start-ups fail, he says. If failure is defined as failing to see the projected return on investment—say, a specific revenue growth rate or date to break even on cash flow—then more than 95% of start-ups fail, based on Mr. Ghosh’s research.

Failure often is harder on entrepreneurs who lose money that they’ve borrowed on credit cards or from friends and relatives than it is on those who raised venture capital.

“When you’ve bootstrapped a business where you’re not drawing a salary and depleting whatever savings you have, that’s one of the very difficult things to do,” says Toby Stuart, a professor at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley.

Venture capitalists make high-risk investments and expect some of them to fail, and entrepreneurs who raise venture capital often draw salaries, he says.

Consider Daniel Dreymann, a founder of Goodmail Systems Inc., a service for minimizing spam. Mr. Dreymann moved his family from Israel in 2004 after co-founding Goodmail in Mountain View, Calif., the previous year. The company raised $45 million in venture capital from firms including DCM, Emergence Capital Partners and Bessemer Venture Partners, and built partnerships with AOL Inc.,  Comcast Corp.,  and Verizon Communications Inc.  At its peak, in 2010, Goodmail had roughly 40 employees.

But the company began to struggle after its relationship with Yahoo Inc. fell apart early that year, Mr. Dreymann says. A Yahoo spokeswoman declined to comment.

In early 2011 an acquisition by a Fortune 500 company fell apart. Soon after, Mr. Dreymann turned over his Goodmail keys to a corporate liquidator.

All Goodmail investors incurred “substantial losses,” Mr. Dreymann says. He helped the liquidator return whatever he could to Goodmail’s investors, he says. “Those people believed in me and supported me.”

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Daniel Dreymann’s antispam service Goodmail failed, despite getting $45 million in venture capital.

How well a failed entrepreneur has managed his company, and how well he worked with his previous investors, makes a difference in his ability to persuade U.S. venture capitalists to back his future start-ups, says Charles Holloway, director of Stanford University’s Center for Entrepreneurial Studies.

David Cowan of Bessemer Venture Partners has stuck with Mr. Dreymann. The 20-year venture capitalist is an “angel” investor in Mr. Dreymann’s new start-up, Mowingo Inc., which makes a mobile app that rewards shoppers for creating a personal shopping mall and following their favorite stores.

“People are embarrassed to talk about their failures, but the truth is that if you don’t have a lot of failures, then you’re just not doing it right, because that means that you’re not investing in risky ventures,” Mr. Cowan says. “I believe failure is an option for entrepreneurs and if you don’t believe that, then you can bang your head against the wall trying to make it work.”

Overall, nonventure-backed companies fail more often than venture-backed companies in the first four years of existence, typically because they don’t have the capital to keep going if the business model doesn’t work, Harvard’s Mr. Ghosh says. Venture-backed companies tend to fail following their fourth years—after investors stop injecting more capital, he says.

Of all companies, about 60% of start-ups survive to age three and roughly 35% survive to age 10, according to separate studies by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes U.S. entrepreneurship. Both studies counted only incorporated companies with employees. And companies that didn’t survive might have closed their doors for reasons other than failure, for example, getting acquired or the founders moving on to new projects. Languishing businesses were counted as survivors.

Of the 6,613 U.S.-based companies initially funded by venture capital between 2006 and 2011, 84% now are closely held and operating independently, 11% were acquired or made initial public offerings of stock and 4% went out of business, according to Dow Jones VentureSource. Less than 1% are currently in IPO registration.

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Article from GigaOm.

Ross Levinsohn, appointed Sundayas interim CEO, doesn’t have to learn Yahoo — he’s spent the last 18 months immersed in it.

And he doesn’t have to learn digital media — from helping to create online sports powerhouses at CBS Sportsline and Fox, to building a $1 billion-plus digital portfolio for Rupert Murdoch, to launching and investing companies through his own private equity fund, he’s covered the digital media waterfront and then some.

He’s Hollywood and Santa Monica but he speaks fluent Silicon Valley.

Most important, he knows Yahoo is a media company — and he knows how to sell it that way. Of all the things he found when he joined Yahoo in late 2010, the most disconcerting was how much the company was doing right and how very bad it was at making that count. Here’s how he put it during an interview with paidContent last year as he emerged from a quiet period:

“I spent six months digging into the company making sure I’m not crazy — and I’m not crazy.

“Yahoo is the premier digital company in the world and embracing that isn’t a hard thing to do. That’s just fact-based. Tell me what other type of media can sit with you and say ‘I’ve got the top 19 #1 or #2 newspapers, I’ve got the top 20 shows, I’ve got the 19 of the top 20 radio stations, 19 of the top 20 magazines’?

“Duh. But you have to fully embrace that. You can’t half-ass that.”

Last fall, he took the stage at paidContent Advertising to pitch the company. The interview came just days after Carol Bartz, who hired him to head media and ad sales for The Americas, was fired. At the time, he was considered a leading internal candidate for CEO. He talked about Yahoo’s need for “a little bravado, a little swagger”:

“Yahoo is a huge, mature, gigantic business. Some of that is overlooked right now. Businesses grow at different rates. We’re 16 years old and we’ve been on top for 15 years. It’s hard to maintain that. When you think of entertainment and gossip, you think of TMZ, but OMG is twice as big with 30 million users a month and still growing. But no-one knows that.”

Levinsohn’s biggest coup at News Corp. was acquiring MySpace from under Viacom’s nose for $580 million in 2005. In hindsight, given how MySpace panned out, perhaps it was anything but a coup — but, at the time, it was transformative, and as big a statement as News Corp. could make about being in the digital game.

Here’s how Levinsohn described it when we talked about why MySpace wasn’t a fit for Yahoo in 2011:

“We bought a social networking site in 2005, before anyone knew what social networking was and now look at where social networking is — so if you look at the trendline we were way head of the game.

“When we bought it, it was doing about $1 million a month; 24 months later we were on a run rate to do $500 million a year. You’d have to say that was a pretty good trajectory.

“Users went from, when we bought it, to 70,000 signups a day (which I thought was astounding), to the month I left about 450,000 signups a day. So again, trajectory, unbelievable.”

Levinsohn was replaced at Fox Interactive when it switched from M&A to operating mode. He’s been battling against perceptions ever since that that he’s not an ops guy.

In addition to rebuilding the internal sales organization and partnering with AOL and Microsoft in a digital sales alliance, and with his top media exec Mickie Rosen setting up a series of high-profile original content deals, Levinsohn has been out telling that story. Not the one of the company that can’t shoot straight – the one about the media company at its core.

Since then, he’s interviewed Tom Hanks to promote a new Yahoo original, been on stage with Katie Couric at the Yahoo digital upfront last month and a few days later being photographed with Sophia Vergara during the White House Correspondents Dinner festivities. He upgraded and expanded an existing relationship with ABC News.

Levinsohn hasn’t left M&A behind but he insists Yahoo doesn’t need a big acquisition to fix its problems, although, if he could have found a way, Hulu would be a Yahoo property. Look at him to focus on making the pieces Yahoo already has fit better, pick up tuck-in acquisitions — and finally decide whether Yahoo should be in the ad tech business or sell it.

Until now, everything he’s done at Yahoo has been in the shadow of CEOs making the final decisions on resources and setting the overall tone. Now — at least for the interim — Yahoo is Levinsohn’s Pottery Barn. He told Yahoos in a lengthy internal e-mail Sunday:

“I know there is one thing we should definitely all be doing in light of this news, and that is to focus on the momentum we’ve created over the last few months.

“Many of you have heard me talk about the possibilities we have, and about the opportunities in front of us. In spite of the very bumpy road we’ve traveled, we are achieving genuine and meaningful successes in the marketplace every day and heading in the right direction.”

What he’ll have to decide now is whether to spend the next months acting as CEO or auditioning for it. Here’s Demand CEO Richard Rosenblatt’s advice, following a Forbes piece by outspoken Yahoo shareholder and tech writer Eric Jackson:

I agree Ross run it like you are the permanent CEO not interim. Own it forbes.com/sites/ericjack…

And, yes, that is the same Richard Rosenblatt who was the CEO that sold MySpace to News Corp., then bought back some of the pieces that helped build Demand Media.

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Article from AboveTheCrowd.com  by Bill Gurly

A few relevant scenes from the recent blockbuster Moneyball:

Peter Brand: Billy, Pena is an All Star. Okay? And if you dump him and this Hatteberg thing doesn’t work out the way that we want it to, you know, this is…this is the kind of decision that gets you fired. It is!
Billy Beane: Yes, you’re right. I may lose my job, in which case I’m a forty four year old guy with a high school diploma and a daughter I’d like to be able to send to college. You’re twenty five years old with a degree from Yale and a pretty impressive apprenticeship. I don’t think we’re asking the right question. I think the question we should be asking is, do you believe in this thing or not?
Peter Brand: I do.
Billy Beane: It’s a problem you think we need to explain ourselves. Don’t. To anyone.
Peter Brand: Okay.

———————————

Grady Fuson: No. Baseball isn’t just numbers, it’s not science. If it was then anybody could do what we’re doing, but they can’t because they don’t know what we know. They don’t have our experience and they don’t have our intuition.
Billy Beane: Okay.
Grady Fuson: Billy, you got a kid in there that’s got a degree in Economics from Yale. You got a scout here with twenty nine years of baseball experience. You’re listening to the wrong one. Now there are intangibles that only baseball people understand. You’re discounting what scouts have done for a hundred and fifty years, even yourself!

These two scenes from Moneyball illustrate something that may be essential to modern business: the incredible value of youth and innovative thinking relative to traditional experience. It turns out that the Moneyball character Peter Brand’s real name is not Peter Brand (played by Jonah Hill), but rather Paul DePodesta. And he didn’t go to Yale, but instead Harvard. He was indeed young – twenty-seven when he went to work for Billy Beane – and he did have an actual degree in Economics. What’s more, as you can see in the interaction above, Billy valued Paul’s (Peter Brand’s) opinions and decisions – despite the fact that he was a complete novice with respect to baseball operations.

A month or two ago, I had the unique opportunity to share the stage with Billy Beane at a management offsite for one of the leading companies in the Fortune 500. We were both fielding questions about innovation, and what one can do to keep their organization innovative. I talked about how many of the partners that have joined Benchmark Capital have been extremely young when they joined, including our most recent partner Matt Cohler who joined us at the age of 31. At Benchmark, we believe that young partners have many compelling differentiators. First, they will ideally have strong connections and compatibility with young entrepreneurs, who are frequently the founders of the largest breakout companies. They are also likely to be frequent users of the latest and greatest technologies (all the more important with today’s consumer Internet market). Like the “Moneyball” situation described herein, young VCs are open to new ways of doing things. This form of “rule-breaking,” or intentionally ignoring yesterday’s doctrine, may in fact be a requirement for successful venture capital investing.

When I mentioned this intentional bias towards youth, Billy Beane abruptly concurred. He noted that injecting youth into the A’s organization is also a key philosophy of his. Paul DePodesta may have been the first young gun that Billy hired, but he was far from the last. Billy continues to recruit young, bright, talented people right out of college to help shake up the closed-minded thinking that can develop with an “experience only” staff. Also noted was the fact that if a certain “experience” is shared by all teams in the league, then it is no longer a strategic weapon. You can only win with a unique advantage.

The impact of youth on the technology scene is undeniable. The included table lists the founding age of some of the most prominent founders of our time. The facts are humbling and intimidating, especially for someone who is no longer in their twenties or early thirties. Can someone in their forties be innovative? Or, do the same things that produce “experience” constrain you from the creativity and perspective needed to innovate?

Lets look at some of the specific advantages of youth. First, as mentioned before, without the blinders of past experience, you don’t know what not to try, and therefore, you are willing to attempt things that experienced executives will not consider. Second, you are quick to leverage new technologies and tools way before the incumbent will see an opportunity or a need to pay attention. For me this may be the bigger issue. The rate of change on the Internet is extremely high. If the weapon du jour is constantly changing, being nimble and open-minded far outweighs being experienced. Blink and you are behind. Youth is a competitive weapon.

The point Billy raised regarding the fleeting value of experience is also important to consider. As the world becomes more and more aware of a trick or a skill, the value of that experience begins to decay. If word travels fast, the value of the skill diminishes quickly. Best practice becomes table stakes to stay-afloat, but not to get ahead. We see examples of this every day with Facebook application user acquisition techniques. Companies find a seam or arbitrage that creates a small window of opportunity in the market, but quickly others mimic the same technique and the advantage proves fleeting.

Back before the Yahoo BOD hired Carol Bartz, there was much speculation about the important traits for Yahoo’s next CEO. Most of the analysis honed in on two key traits for the company’s next leader – the ability to lead and the ability to innovate. I remember trying to think about leaders that I thought would have a chance at having a measurable impact. On one hand, you could put a very young innovative executive into the role, but it is hard to imagine handing a $15B public company over to someone remarkably inexperienced. The other side of the coin is equally difficult – thinking of a seasoned executive who has the ability to dramatically innovate Yahoo’s products and business model.

There were only a handful of people (as few as three) that I could think of at the time that fit this second profile. Thinking back now, they all shared the following characteristic: despite being experienced CEOs, these individuals all “thought young” i.e. they were open-minded and curious. And they did not believe that experience gave them all the answers. These type of executives love diving head-first into the latest and greatest technologies as soon as they become available.

If you want to stay “young” and innovative, you have no choice but to immerse yourself in the emerging tools of the current and next generation. You MUST stay current, as it is illusionary to imagine being innovative without being current. Also realize that the generational shifts are much shorter than they were in the past. If you were an innovative Internet company five short years ago, you might have learned about SEM and SEO. Most of the newly disruptive companies are no longer using these tools as paths to success – they have moved on to social/viral techniques. The game keeps changing, and if you are not “all-in” in terms of learning what’s new, than you may be falling rapidly behind.

Consider these questions:

  1. When a new device or operating system comes out do you rush out to get it as soon as possible – just because you want to play with the new features? Or do you wait for the dust to settle so that you don’t make a mistaken purchase. Or because you don’t want to waste your time.
  2. Do you use LinkedIn for all of your recruiting, or do you mistakenly think that LinkedIn is only for job seekers? How many connections do you have? Is your profile up to date? (When Yahoo announced Carol Bartz as CEO, I did a quick search on LinkedIn.  She was not a registered user.)
  3. When you heard that Zynga’s Farmville had over 80MM monthly users, did you immediately launch the game to see what it was all about, or do you make comments about how mindless it is to play such a game? Have you ever launched a single Facebook game?
  4. Do you have an Android phone or do you still use a Blackberry because your Chief Security Officer says you have to? I know many “innovators” who carry an iPhone and an Android, simply because they know these are the smartphones that customers use. And they want exposure to both platforms – at a tactile level.
  5. Do you use the internal camera app on your iPhone because it’s easy, or have you downloaded Instgram to find out why 27mm other people use that instead?
  6. Do you leverage Twitter to improve your influence and position in your industry or is it more comfortable for you to declare, “why would I tweet?,” before you even fully understand the product or why people in similar roles are leveraging the medium? Do you follow the industry leaders in your field on Twitter? Do you follow your competitors and customers? Do you track your company’s products and reputation?
  7. How many apps are on your smart phone? Do you have well over 50, or even 100, because you are routinely downloading each and every app from each peer and competitor you can to see how others are exploiting the environment? Do you know how WhatsApp, Voxer, and Path leveraged the iphone contact list for viral distribution?
  8. Do you know what Github is and why most startups rely on it as the key center of their engineering effort?
  9. Have you ever mounted an AWS server at Amazon? Do you know how AWS pricing works?
  10. Does it make sense to you to use HTML5 as your mobile solution so that you don’t have to code for multiple platforms? Does it bother you that none of the leading smartphone app vendors take this approach?
  11. When you are on the road on business, do you let your assistant book the same old car service, or do you tell them, “I want to use Uber just to see how it works?”
  12. When Facebook launched the new timeline feature did you immediately build one to see what the company was up to, or did you dismiss this as something you shouldn’t waste your time on?
  13. Have you been to Glassdoor.com to see what employees are saying about your company? Or have you rationalized why it’s not important, the way the way the old-school small business owner formerly dismissed his/her Yelp review.

The really great news is that being a “learn-it-all” has never been easier. With the Internet, high-speed broadband, SAAS, Cloud-services, 4G, and smart-phones, you can learn about new things, 24 hours a day, no matter where you are or what you do. All you need is the internal drive and insatiable curiosity to understand why the world is evolving the way it is. It is all out there for you to touch and feel. None of it is hidden.

There are in fact many “over 30” executives who can go toe-to-toe with these young entrepreneurs, precisely because they keep themselves youthful by leaning-in and understanding the constantly evolving frontier. My favorite “youthful” CEOs are people like Marc Benioff and Michael Dell, who frequently can be found signing up for brand new social networking tools and applications. Reed Hastings has more than once answered Netflix questions directly in Quora.  Jason Kilar frequently communicates directly with his customers through Hulu’s blog. Rich Barton, the co-founder of Expedia and Zillow is one of those people carrying both an Iphone and an Android, and is constant learning mode. I would also include Mark Cuban, whose curiosity is voracious. The other NBA owners never saw him coming. And lastly, there is Jeff Bezos, who seems to live beyond the edge, imagining the future as it unfolds. Watch the launch of Kindle Fire in NYC, and you will have no doubt that Jeff plays with these products directly and frequently.

Our last table highlights the stats from the Twitter account of some of these “youthful,” learn-it-all executives (sans Mr. Bezos – we all wish he tweeted). If you don’t find this list interesting, think about the thousands and thousands of executives out there who are nowhere to be found with respect to social media. They take the easy way out, likely blaming their legal department. They intentionally choose not to learn and not to be innovative. And they refuse to indoctrinate themselves to the very tools that the disrupters will use to attack their incumbency. That may in fact be the most dangerous path of all.”

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Article from SFGate.

“Yahoo is laying off 2,000 employees as new CEO Scott Thompson sweeps out jobs that don’t fit into his plans for turning around the beleaguered Internet company.

The cuts announced Wednesday represent about 14 percent of the 14,100 workers employed by Yahoo, which is based in Sunnyvale, Calif.

The company estimated it will save about $375 million annually after the layoffs are completed later this year.

Workers losing their jobs will be notified Wednesday. Some of the affected employees will stay on for an unspecified period of time to finish various projects, according to Yahoo.

The housecleaning marks Yahoo’s sixth mass layoff in the past four years under three different CEOs. This one will inflict the deepest cuts yet, eclipsing a cost-cutting spree that laid off 1,500 workers in late 2008 as Yahoo tried to cope with the Great Recession.

Thompson is making his move three months after Yahoo lured him away from his previous job running eBay Inc.’s online payment service, PayPal.

The layoffs “are an important next step toward a bold, new Yahoo — smaller, nimbler, more profitable and better equipped to innovate as fast as our customers and our industry require,” Thompson said in a statement.

“We are intensifying our efforts on our core businesses and redeploying resources to our most urgent priorities,” he said. “Our goal is to get back to our core purpose — putting our users and advertisers first — and we are moving aggressively to achieve that goal.”

Yahoo shares rose 12 cents to $15.30 in morning trading.”

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Article by John Backus, Partner New Atlantic Ventures

“Much has been written about the explosive growth of smartphones and tablets, but apps are what make them useful and are driving their adoption. IDC estimates mobile app downloads will reach nearly 182.7 billion in 2015. There are now nearly one million apps, mostly for Apple and Android devices, and Gartner projected app revenue from app stores alone will reach $58 billion by 2014. Apps are big business.

But this sheer volume of apps creates real complexities for app developers and consumers alike. As a developer, how does your app stand apart from the pack? As a consumer, finding the right app is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Conventional wisdom suggests that search is the answer. Chomp, Quixey and even Yahoo! let you discover apps through search. Others are trying to help you search for apps with various algorithms, through social networks and games.

I disagree with this this entire approach.

Search is not the answer for app discovery – finding the top apps is serendipitous.

We find our best apps today by talking to our friends at a restaurant, by reading about them in a blog or an article, or by stumbling upon them on a recommended or top ten list.

Not a month goes by when an entrepreneur I meet, developing a smartphone app, can’t quite answer a simple question: How will you market your app to your customers? All too often the answer lies somewhere between “Apple is going to feature my app,” and “I’m going to advertise it in other apps.” Neither is a compelling answer, nor likely to help developers build a big business.

We’re placing a big bet, alongside VC media giant, Syncom, that serendipity will drive the app discovery process. That’s why we invested in Apptap. Similar to what an ad network does today, serving you ads based on the content of the web page you are viewing, AppTap serves you apps to consider, based on that same content.

A USA Today online reader, browsing an article in the sports section, is likely interested in seeing sports-related apps. A visitor to TUAW (The Unofficial Apple Weblog) is likely to be intrigued by cutting edge Apple iPhone or iPad apps, but not by an advertisement on basket weaving. A Pandora iPhone listener, on the other hand, is likely not interested in clicking out of Pandora to check out a flashing app advertisement.

So if you are a developer, quit trying to trick customers into downloading your app via incented downloads. Don’t run random app ads, it is too reminiscent of early run-of-site banner ads. And don’t think that hoping to be featured in someone else’s app store is a good strategy.

Instead, put your app where your customers are likely to discover it, and you will be well on your way to growing your audience with users actually interested in your app.

Originally published on the Huffington Post, January 13, 2012. Follow John on Twitter @jcbackus”

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Article from GigaOm.

“2011 has been a year of milestone birthdays in tech. September saw Google become a teenager, email hit the big 40 in June, and even Twitter turned five back in March. Perhaps the most significant tech birthday this year, though, was the World Wide Web itself turning 20.

In 1991 British scientist Tim Berners-Lee posted a brief summary of the World Wide Web (or W3) project on the alt.hypertext newsgroup, writing:

“The WWW project was started to allow high energy physicists to share data, news, and documentation. We are very interested in spreading the Web to other areas, and having gateway servers for other data. Collaborators welcome.

It’s safe to say that Berners-Lee’s invitation to potential collaborators went fairly well. That initial web page has expanded to more than 19 billion pages (at the last count) and there are millions and millions of workers across the globe who rely on the World Wide Web to go about their daily lives. In those 20 years, the changes to the workplace that have taken place thanks to the Internet are nothing short of remarkable. Email is as good a place as any to start.

You’ve got mail

Try to explain the workplace B.E. (before email) to someone under 30, and you could be describing life in the 19th century for all the relevance it has to their working day. Back then, we lived in a world in which quaint technologies such as the fax machine prevailed. With the fax machine, it was not unusual to wait days for a reply.

Later, when Web-based email began to grow in popularity, it transformed communication in the workplace. You could now receive a response to a question within minutes, especially once broadband connections became more commonplace. You could send information and documents to colleagues around the world at the click of a button.

Email overload

But technology was now developing at a pace that seemed astonishing even to those who worked in the industry, and email, after a honeymoon period, hit problems. “Too intrusive,” said some. “Too much of it,” said others. “Not quick enough,” moaned the rest.

When consumer-based instant-messaging technologies infiltrated the workplace – AIM launched in 1997 and Yahoo! Messenger (then Pager) in 1998 – users were suddenly able to communicate with co-workers in real-time. Years later, these tools would often be integrated into a platform that also included voice over Internet protocol (VoIP), shared whiteboards, video conferencing and file transfer features.

It was around this time that social networks also began to establish a presence. Some of these are undoubtedly more consumer-focused, but there can also be no denying that Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter have had a massive impact on working life, too. The ability to communicate and share content with your extended network (and beyond) has transformed many of our traditional working practices. As well as enabling businesses to engage in two-way conversations with their customers, these social networks are now a central part of the recruitment process. Last year, I wrote a piece on how Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter can enable you to find a team of peers without breaking the bank of recruitment agencies. You can tap into your workforce’s network and find like-minded, talented people to become part of your company.

Getting ready to collaborate

The net result of all the technological developments outlined above has been to change the very fabric of how we work. We now live in a collaboration economy. To share and communicate information, ideas and innovation has never been easier, or come more naturally to the workforce. The emergence of the Web has given rise to a global working village, with location and time zone utterly irrelevant. You can work as closely with someone in another country as you would with someone sitting opposite; work from home or on the move, and even send files from your mobile handset to someone on the other side of the world.

This has all been made possible by the World Wide Web. From Skype to smartphones and social networking to SaaS, it’s all underpinned by the internet and the changes to the workplace of 20 years ago are just extraordinary. With a global mobile worker population set to hit 1.19 billion by 2013, one can only wonder what the Internet will bring us next. Bring on the next 20 years!”

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