March 2006 Archives

When a company organises a press conference, there is always a danger that none of the press will actually turn up. What you don't expect is for none of the people at the company organising the event to attend it. At least I didn't until last Monday as I sat through the slow-motion car crash that was Luminary Micro's big splash launch.

It must have seemed like a great idea on paper. You are a small Texas startup with a potentially global market in the technology sector. What better than a virtual press conference done entirely online? No need to get on planes or get people to one or two locations. What could possibly go wrong, click, go wrong, click, go wrong...

FreedomPods

23 March 2006

Those perfidious French have done it again. Apparently, they have had the temerity to tell Apple it should open up its FairPlay digital restriction management system to consumers. In effect, give consumers the means to circumvent the mechanism used to prevent songs downloaded from its iTunes store from being copied.

Well, almost.

Some people posting about how Apple should quit the French market have got a little ahead of themselves. I'm half expecting someone to demand that Apple's music players should be hardwired to reject Johnny Halliday and Jacques Brel* songs in retaliation. Anyone want to listen to a FreedomPod while they munch their freedom fries? Wired struck a more balanced note.

In reality, all that has happened so far is that the French parliament decided to pass a law that demands that digital content - of any type - bought online should be playable on any type of music player. This decision seems to affect Apple the most because the company has refused to license its FairPlay system to any other manufacturer. Microsoft will also be affected but, because it licenses its system to hardware makers, the problem looks less serious. Apple has, for some strange reason that is actually alienating consumers, decided to overreact.

Just in case you were in any doubt about the use of social media and similar things were just plans to separate people and companies from their money, Steve Rubel finds the silver lining in a study by ANA and Forrester into advertisers' attitudes to TV advertising as reported by Clickz. The 30-second slot is so-1990s it seems.

The argument is that dollars spent on 'traditional' advertising will go into the various forms of online media as promoted by Rubel:

Reading this study is like standing under a giant pinata that just exploded with enough candy to go around for all of us.

I'm sure the people paying for the experimentation in new media will be only too pleased to know that's how Rubel feels: they would be in the pinata getting caned by Web 2.0 types I take it (and TV companies are the kids standing to the side because they're not allowed any more sweets).

Seth Godin kicked off a round of blogger introspection (of which this post is a part, I admit it) on how things can go wrong when a blogger posts too often. This rapidly turned into a discussion in one part on the coming attention deficit crisis, which remains something of a myth - most people are ignored most of the time right now, blogging does not change that. For the other part, it became a question of how often a blogger should post, as Problogger posed it. And that is not a Zen question by the way.

Problogger Darren Rowse gave several answers. None of which were: "When you've got something to say." Which seemed the most obvious answer. But, then again, I'm not a pro-blogger: I don't have an AdSense beast to feed.

A few good releases

3 March 2006

Amid all the complaints of the appalling quality of most press releases - and the weary sighs of those who have heard the call for the death of the release once too often - it is easy to forget that, in some sectors, the information content of releases has remained pretty good. These rare beasts are written tightly and plainly enough for journalists work out their relevance with a skim through instead of having to work out what each phrase might mean. Some releases are still written as though they are news stories; the problem is that, in other sectors, this good style of release has been squashed by the corporate Nuspeak nightmare that always starts: "BigCo, Inc, the leader in high-mass total solutions, announces the availability of..."

The science research sector is one of the best examples of how the release can remain useful. So much so, that after lumping AlphaGalileo and Eurekalert into the main PR feed in NetNewsWire, I realised the error of my ways and put them in their own group so I can find them without wading through the other stuff - this is despite the fact that the feeds I use are not that precise in terms of the areas that I normally cover. The signal-ton-noise ratio is plenty good enough to inspect that group regularly. The rest of the releases can flounder in the main feed.

Science releases are not all paragons of good release style but, for the most part, I have no complaints about the way information is presented by the institutions that use services such as AlphaGalileo and Eurekalert to tell journalists (and anybody else) about their research work. One important factor in this is that a good number of universities employ specialist science writers to produce the releases, which are often formatted as stories that appear on the institution's own research-news pages. Those writers can often be the named first point of contact for journalists, or at least have their details provided alongside those of the lead researcher.

A few days late, I noticed that Analog Devices has got around to rescinding its anti-takeover plan, first established in 1998 under one of my (least) favourite business euphemisms: the "shareholder rights plan". Otherwise known as poison pills - a much more descriptive term - these plans effectively prevent any attempt to buy a controlling stake in the company and dump its management.

I was always curious where the term "shareholder rights plan" came from, as it was clearly enhancing the rights of the management rather than the shareholders, who would get to cash in on the ambitions of a purchaser. However, timing is important in how these things swing in and out of fashion. 1998 was a surprisingly bad year for electronics companies relative to other stocks. After the technology mini-boom of 1995 crashed and burned, the chipmakers ended up with the third-degree scars. While Internet stocks coughed and continued skyward toward the much bigger collapse of 2001, chipmakers bounced in and out of recession. Looking cheaply valued, a number of electronics stocks decided to fend off being eaten up by deals financed with overvalued paper using these poison pills. The argument generally promulgated at the time was that shareholders would not be sold short by a temporary imbalance in stock-market valuations.

Now it's the era of corporate governance and the idea of a shareholders rights plan, which makes it notionally more difficult for shareholders to sell up, is most definitely unfashionable. I really need to look at how many other companies in the sector are throwing out these late-1990s rules. It's not all that tricky to do: the deal looks to cost ADI about $180,000 by my calculations, given that the rights were worth $0.0005 per share. But is corporate-governance chic the only motivator to toss out these rules?