Tag Archives: E-Commerce

“Where” is that Secret Facility on Foursquare?

One of the really interesting aspects of smartphone apps is the innovation and product mutation process.  Over the past couple of weeks I have downloaded over 100 apps on my Droid.  Some apps were good, many were not.  With the exception of Skydroid (99 cents), all were free.  For the record the Skydroid golf GPS program worked really well on my recent golf outing.  It did not help my game at all, but it was useful ad fun to use.

"Where" Local Information Portal

One of the more interesting and useful apps I have been using is “Where”.   “Where” aggregates all the most important mobile search and information functions in one app that utilizes your location for giving you the most relevant results.    Weather, News (including micro local news!), Places (a combination of restaurants, hotels, shopping, bars, etc), Movies, Gas prices, Yellow Pages, Traffic, and even a dedicated icon for the nearest Starbucks.  For the city-folk, it includes an app to locate a Zip Car.  All of these come with easy lists, or are searchable via text or voice input.

Instead of going into several dedicated apps to do the same “on the fly” searches, you can just stay within the “Where” dashboard.   They also have a widget for the Droid that will give you the latest alert on any of the categories you have displayed.  The widget still needs some work, but is useful.

There is a similar function to “FourSquare” that encourages venue checkin and reviews. Foursquare is  the much bigger app for the “hey look where I’ve been crowd”, but “Where” should be watched.

What is interesting about both “Where” and “Foursquare” is how they took a

Foursquare places near me - Interesting...

working model on mobile and morphed it into something more useful.   “Where” actually went backwards to go forward.  They observed that the single function search and LBS apps were good but cumbersome to use in a real life use case.  For example, let’s find a movie to see, a place to eat and maybe a club later on.  “Where” handles that use case.  “Where” re-invented the information portal.

For the record I have no idea what the top secret Delta Facility or the Mothership are in my list.  But I will now have to check them out!  If this is my last blog article you will know why!

My Mother's Day Trip - on Foursquare

Foursquare capitalized on the fascination with Twitter and tweeting your status and focused it on venues.  This creates a social scene network.  Where are your friends?  Do you want to see them?  What do they think of that bar, restaurant, deli, etc?  It is a real time social networking app that is part Twitter, part Zagat’s, and part dating and hook-up.  Foursquare also uses location based services to locate you and give you a list of close by venues for you to check-in.

Both of these apps are using geo-located search technology to make their apps very easy to use.  They are both ad supported.  “Where” has a coupon tray for local coupons on products and services.  They both provide functionality that is superior to a vanilla Google search.

So what do they need to move to the big time?

Foursquare is clearly in the Zagat space.  Foursquare is what the mobile version of Zagat should be.  Foursquare and Zagat announced a partnership in February.  The combined application should be interesting!  To the leading edge augmented reality crowd –  yes I have tried Zagat on NRU – its very cool and the whole subject of augmented reality will be the topic of a future article.

“Where” needs the venue reviews and overall utilization that Foursquare and Zagat enjoy.  Additionally “Where” can benefit from the social networking features of Foursquare.   What I am not to subtly suggesting is that while Foursquare and “Where” have definitely moved the bar (no pun intended 🙂 ) , they are much more compelling together, and eventually even more compelling in a real partnership with Zagat.

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Filed under advertising, android, blog storming, cloud computing, Content, CTIA, Droid, Droid Incredible, facebook, HTC, HTC Incredible, Love, mobile, mobile advertising, Mobile Application Stores, mobile commerce, reviews

HTC Droid Incredible – The Rest of the Story (Spoiler Alert!)

What Droid Incredible Really Does – and Does Not (Unofficial Review)

After resisting Droid-Rage during the holiday season, I succumbed to the uber- hyped latest Android super phone – the HTC Incredible.  My venerable Blackberry Curve just was not as sleek or sexy and clearly did not have the cool robot graphics.

There are numerous blog reviews and YouTube videos that will espouse all the virtues of Verizon’s number 1 smartphone.  While they are largely correct, they do not tell the whole story.  Yes it is fast, works on a great network, has more features that a human can possibly comprehend, or use – and even makes phone calls.   I will provide another article with my fav Droid features – this article is about the other side.

To quote Paul Harvey  – “And now the rest of the story….”  Here are my top six issues with my Droid.

1. Speed comes at a cost – The Achilles Heal of the Incredible

All the blazing application response and connectivity comes at a cost in battery utilization.  The first day I had my Droid I had to charge it 2 times.  What good is all that capability if the phone is dead?  If you get a Droid you must stay close to a charging source and become an active energy manager.  You should turn-off the GPS when not needed, limit the number of running applications and even re-consider all of those really cool active widgets which use periodic connectivity to update themselves.   If you need an icon of the sun to let you know its sunny outside, perhaps you need more than a new phone.

2. The display rocks – unless you want to use it outside during the day

The AMOLED technology used in the HTC screen is the latest, but not quite the greatest.  The display is great when used inside.  I just got back from a round of golf and the phone was practically unusable in the sunlight.  The bigger issue is using the super Google driving directions app with a map view.  The map will not be viewable in a car during the day!

3. Its not the number of Apps that matters – its having the right ones and ones that actually work

I never got that impressed with the claims of absolute number of apps on device platforms.  If the iPhone has 300K and the Android 30K , what does that really mean?  It’s a little like counting the number of Nukes that the U.S. and Russia have in their arsenals. .  Quality, not quantity really matters. Android has the basic Facebook and Skype apps.  Its the other 30K that may need some help.  My impression is that the apps on the iPhone are not just more numerous, but are generally of higher quality.   Perhaps the Android platform chased absolute numbers to claim lots of apps without as much quality consideration.  Several apps just did not work at all and others just stopped working.  I tried to download the linkedIn app and had a failure.  This is an area that the Android platform will likely get right at some point.

I want quality apps for the handful I will actually use.  Android has to close the app quality gap with Apple.

4. iTunes Integration – Music and Video – ???

The iPhone clearly excels at music and video desktop integration.  The challenge for any other platform is to create seamless integration for their platforms with the defacto standard for online music. Given the critical nature of this feature, one might assume that HTC or Verizon would provide a solution that makes this happen.

And you would assume wrong.  There are a couple of solutions that purported to achieve this function.  I tried both SailingMedia and DoubleTwist.  Both of these third-party solutions did not work.  While I could probably play with them for another hour or so and figure out what the issue is – why should I have to do that?  I did load my music directly by dragging my music to the mp3 folder on my device.  The music plays fine and the external speaker is loud –if that matters to you.  There does not appear to be a pre-loaded video player and I have yet to get a video, other than YouTube to play successfully.  Again, I’m sure I will figure it out – but why should I have to?

5. Gmail Good – Gmail Bad

I use gmail for my personal email domain, I figured that the Android platform would be a good choice for my use.  For the record my Blackberry worked perfectly with my gmail account.  As expected my gmail account integrated easily with my Droid.  My issue with email is the rather poor gmail app on the device.  I tried to use the HTC mail app and for whatever reason it does not seem to work when my gmail application is active.  As with my other issues, I am sure with a little time I can get it to work.

6. Steve Jobs is right – One button is enough

The Incredible Droid has 7 physical buttons -Home, Menu, Back, Search, optical trackball with click, volume and power/wake-up.  In addition to these physical inputs the standard screen has four soft keys – an up arrow to access all programs, a phone button (yes it can make a phone call!), a “+” key for adding widgets, programs and folders to a screen, and lastly a hidden slide down at the top of the screen that gives a list of alerts and running programs.  Wow – that’s a lot of things to keep straight!.  The really annoying input is the totally useless optical track ball and click selector that just happens to occupy the same spot as the single “home” key on the iPhone.  Needless to say, I have been pushing that click selector by accident through pure muscle memory from my iPhone and iTouch.  An optical trackball on a touch screen device?  Why?

Despite these issues, I am sure I will get around the downsides of this device and make it into a very useful tool for business and personal use.  However, how many customers will take the time to become an I.T. manager for their phone?

For the past several years I carried my Blackberry for phone use and light Internet use and an iTouch for fun.  The true test will be if I go to one device.

The iPhone, like all Apple products – just works out of the box.  The Droid can work, and even do more, but you have to know what you are doing and be willing to investigate the necessary solutions.  The Droid is clearly still rough around the edges.

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Filed under Apple, Droid, HTC, Incredible, Incredible, iPad, iphone, Ipod, iTunes, mobile, Mobile Application Stores, mobile commerce, skype, smart phone, Smartphone, Social Media, Steve Jobs, Verizon, wireless

SNL Really!?! Really?

This past episode of SNL had a Toyota Prius commercial parody..

You can view it by clicking here:

What was even funnier than the skit was the targeted advertisements for this video clip on the NBC website.

When I first viewed it on the web I was shown a Toyota Sienna commercial. Would Toyota want to sponsor such an anti-Toyota commercial parody with Toyota’s advertising budget? Really!?!

Not to be satisfied with just one viewing, I reloaded the web video to see what I would get next. I was pleased that the Toyota Sienna ad had been replaced…… by a Lexus Hybrid Ad! Really? Really! The ad voiceover describes that while others are just now building hybrid cars, Lexus hybrids have traveled over 5 billion miles. This is the ad that runs before a skit on a Toyota hybrid that will not stop? Really!?!

To be truthful in my advertising of this advertising faux pas, these Toyota Ads , along with ones from, Sprint, Mercedes, Audi, Nissan, a Broadway Play and other food products. This ad rotation seemed to be running on all videos on the SNL site.

The Mercedes ad shows one of their cars rolling and bouncing down a test track highlighting its structural integrity in crashes! Really!?!

There was even an ad for the “Parenthood Driving Challenge”, sponsored by Nissan,

Despite this “run of site advertising mode”, Toyota and their agency cannot be thrilled at the commercial parody coupled with their partial sponsorship of their own humiliation.

Really!?!

Lastly it is worth asking, ”Did Ford actually sponsor that commercial parody?” It is their most effective advertisement in a long time. Really!

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Filed under advertising, Automobile, mobile, mobile advertising, Toyota, Web2.0

Marketing is about choices – or is it? You decide

Marketing is about choices – or is it?

I recently went through a mental exercise of trying to determine what makes great marketing companies…. well…. great.   There are the obvious, and historic , iconic brands of the last 100 years – Coke,  Ford, AT&T,  McDonalds, Bud,  Chevy.  These brands have become part of the American DNA.  They will not necessarily be the great marketing giants of the next 20 years, but like that old pair of jeans, somewhat comfortable,  but  not what you will brag to your friends about.


None of these companies excelled at consumer choice.  Coke gives you with/without caffeine and  with/without sugar .  Ford and Chevy have nearly gone out of business by trying to offer too many choices, or more correctly, dictating what the consumer should choose.  Bud gives you regular or lite.  McDonalds is about the burger.  These companies have used massive advertising to direct the consumer choice to their pre-determined, limited set of options.


The companies that are dominating consumer choices now are Google, Apple, Facebook, Your Cable/Internet Providers, and Amazon.com.   They all seemingly put choice back in the hands of the consumer.  Google presents you with literally whatever you want.   Apple provides endless apps on the first really open smartphone.  Facebook opens a world of new and past friends and lets you choose who you want to be friends with, or not.   Cable television began to break up the monopoly of the networks by providing consumers 100’s (and now 1000’s) of channels of choice, coupled with video on demand.   In this era of consumer empowerment, does brand matter?


The conclusion I came to is yes , and now more than ever.  Fundamentally, marketing is about directing a consumers choice to a specific product or service.  Google only makes money when you choose to click on a product search that was highlighted via advertising.  Apple needs you to choose their marketplace for apps.  With thousands upon thousands of apps, what will be the mechanism for consumer adoption?  The featured list of apps on the iphone is really what? It is a mechanism to show you that you have unlimited choice , but then direct your choice in a specific manner.     Facebook is a huge social marketing machine that tries to influence your choices by having your friends influence you.  Influence the Influencers, and you direct choices.

Your Cable providers can offer you 100’s of channels, and as has been seen in recent days, can take those channels away.  They do however; seem to come the closest to providing relatively influence free choices. (Their advertising for paid VOD movies aside).


Amazon provides a brilliant mix of peer reviews and product recommendations.  They are really the more direct version of Google.  Search on what you want to buy, get a couple of choices.  If you don’t like what you see, they suggest close alternatives. While their marketing value proposition is about unlimited choice, their technology is all about limiting your choice, so that you will make a choice.


So, the older model had a marketing organization pre-determining a consumer’s choice through some form of market research and then marketing the heck out of those choices.  Now, companies give the illusion of unlimited choices, monitor and track the actual choices that are made and then capitalize on those choices and utilize more subtle earns to influence those choices.


Marketing is marketing.  The techniques evolve, but the goals remain the same.  Buy my product or service and not the other guys.

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Filed under advertising, Apple, E-Commerce, economy, facebook, mobile advertising, Mobile Application Stores, mobile commerce, smart phone, Smartphone, Social Media, social networking

Cheers and Jeers for Mobile without Numbers

My article “The Future of Mobile – without numbers” created a large reaction.  I received a full inbox worth of cheers and jeers.  For those who cheered, I say “thanks.”

comedy-tragedy-maskFor those who jeered, I say, “Thank you very much!”  I have always believed that when people challenge your thinking and your logic, you have the opportunity to learn and make your own arguments better.  With this in mind, I have created a couple of broad categories of challenges from my critics.   (If you have not read the original article you should first check it out with this link)

 These areas are:

1-The sociological, technological and economic feasibility of my hypothesis that social networking and VoIP will fundamentally change the mobile industry

2-What should the Wireless Service Providers do to counter this threat?

Item 1:

To explain and expand on my logic more fully it is useful to look at some history.

What was the key invention that made the Internet a global phenomenon?

It was not TCP/IP, or browsers or even Google.

barilan_internet-thumbThe key invention was the Domain Name Server (DNS).  DNS translates a domain name to an IP addresses.   It is much easier to remember www.nytimes.com, instead of its IP address (170.149.173.130).  DNS servers are continuously updated around the globe as Internet services switch IP addresses; add new destinations or new web services are created.

DNS is also what makes email possible.

Prior to global DNS services the translation of a name to an IP address took place (if at all) in the equivalent of a local address book on your computer.  You would update this local file with new IP address/Web name pairs as you discovered them, with the obvious problem that your local address book did not automatically update to track changes.

 Does this sound familiar?        

For nearly 100 years telephone services have been in the local address book mode.  As a telephone subscriber, the implied requirement was for you to carry your own version of a local DNS in your pocket. Antique telephoneYour phone contacts would only update if you physically made a change to your address book.

The phone company would issue all subscribers a regional, printed, version of DNS on a yearly basis, the big phone book.

This fundamental use case did not change until the introduction of phones with imbedded contact lists.  With embedded contact lists you could scroll through a list and click to call.  This feature eliminated the need to dial or punch all the digits yourself, but was still limited to your personal updates.

Prior to the ability to look up and retrieve phone numbers for people and businesses on the Internet, the only global DNS equivalent for telephone service was “411”, information service.

The use case for smartphones is the start of a fundamental change.  With their larger screens and easy keyboard entry, you just type the name of the person you want to call and press send.  The connection with the phone number is further eroded.  The contact list still, however, must be maintained personally, just like our Grandparents did with their paper versions.

I can still remember the phone numbers from my friends in high school, but have to look up my kids’ numbers.  The reason is that I never use my kids’ numbers; I just type their name.

The ability to take your phone number with you when you change providers (landline or wireless) was a big boost to the manual updating of address books.  This was made necessary because of the lack of Global DNS in telephone service.

The emergence of large, ubiquitous social networks is the final missing puzzle piece that will finally alter this 100-year pattern and make phone calling similar to typing “nytimes”, instead of its IP number.  These social networks provide several key elements.

They are a collection of your friends, family members and business associates.  Your network(s) contain the majority of people you need, or want, to communicate with on a regular basis.

fhw1uoifmega5hwmediumSecondly, your networked friends should give you permission to view and have access to their actual phone numbers.  This access will give you the equivalent of global DNS for your contact list!  The updating of the phone numbers will no longer be your responsibility, but the responsibility of your friends.  This is the same scenario as a Webmaster updating their web services IP address for DNS.  Even if Voice over IP (VOIP) services do not emerge as a dominant mobile trend (I believe they will), then the social network aspects will be a major force unto themselves.

So, at least to this point the logic is that Social Networks = Global DNS.

The last aspect of social networks is that they can easily provide an “always connected” status.  This is the way instant messaging services (AOL, MSN, Yahoo, Skype) work today.  This always-connected feature creates a direct IP path between any two (or more) members.  If you have a direct IP path, you can easily create voice and video communications services.

The combination of social networks providing DNS-like service and IP connectivity is the core of the technological argument.  The fact that the Internet has trained a large segment of the world to access sites and services by name, instead of by IP number is my proof point that there should not be a sociological issue with my scenario.

The economics of this scenario are more difficult to predict.  I agree with those who said that the social networks and VOIP providers such as Skype would not run a global communications network without significant revenue and profit.  The issue to consider is:  Have the economics of providing a significant portion of this service forever altered in a significant manner?

VOIP service for home or business is significantly less expensive for the consumer than a direct-wired solution using 100-year-old twisted pair telephone technology.  The ease of provisioning and maintenance, and the lower cost of transmission and billing, has changed the economics of landline services.   It is less expensive to transmit and manage a very high bandwidth data path using Internet technologies, than to maintain individual transmission paths.  

Why not the same for mobile?

Item 2:  What should the Wireless Carriers do?

If I were the CEO of a major service provider I would execute the following strategy:

vzw_logo_1024Recognizing the importance of the trends that I discussed, the game that is now being played puts this mobile carrier at a structural disadvantage.  If you think you are going to lose at the game that is being played, you change the game.

The Carriers should obtain their own DNS service for their subscribers that updates continuously and allows for one click friend calling.  This service should be a collection of the key social networks.  

The Carriers should Interface/partner with Facebook, LinkedIn, etc and create a superset DNS of their subscribers’ contacts.  Then they should build the social networking application(s) directly on the phones to permit IM, voice, and video communications. The existing mobile numbers can be used as the equivalent IP addressing scheme.  The integration with the social networks will also permit contextual communications as the subscriber has access to their friends profile and status.

The strategy of partnering with the social networks for calling DNS functionality and contextual communications would create tremendous value. 

The marketing possibilities for a Wireless Carrier with this strategy are huge.

If this strategy was implemented by just one carrier (Verizon for example) then they could market to your friends list to switch and get In-Calling rates (free) when they call each other.  If 98% of your calls were within your social networking contacts, then it would make sense for that group to be on a single carrier.

The Carriers have tried viral marketing in the past with In-Calling and T-mobiles Fav-5 program.  What I am suggesting would be many orders of magnitude more impactful.  The first carrier that figures this out and executes will steal many of their competitor’s subscribers and really change the game.

The last issue for the Carrier strategy section is to counter the VOIP threat.

My strategy would be to embrace and profit from it.   There are two obvious moves to capitalize on mobile VOIP.  First, follow the strategy of the landline providers by creating your own VOIP mobile service that utilizes your connections into the social networks.  You can have a flat monthly fee for VOIP calls.

Secondly, you can also provide a “bring your own VOIP” service plan.  The Carrier would charge a lower monthly fixed fee that would reflect their lower costs in servicing these 3rd party subscribers.

theatre_and_the_internet

Over the past five years the bulk of new mobile service investment has been on mobile data applications. Mobile  voice services have not evolved beyond the basic voice call, callerID, voicemail stage.  This is the opportunity to merge the data application investments directly with the core voice service.

The real issue for the Wireless Carriers will be in the recognition of this threat and the real opportunity that this fundamental disruption in the market it creates for a first mover to capitalize on the changes and redefine how people communicate.

I hope I have addressed many of the Jeers that I got last week.  I welcome your comments on these expanded explanations and logic!

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Filed under android, Apple, blackberry, CEO, Content, Distribution, E-Commerce, economy, Google, mobile, mobile advertising, Mobile Application Stores, mobile commerce, mobile games, Open Network, reviews, Ringtones, skype, smart phone, Smartphone, Social Media, social networking, subscription servcies, Web2.0, widgets

Does President Obama Need to Bail Out Twitter?

obama tweets

During this historic week there will be many pressing issues for the new administration: The Economy, Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel and Hamas, Global Warming, Energy, Education, Social Security, Health, and lastly Twittgm logoer.

Billions are being given to GM to build more car&trucks that the public really no longer wants. For a fraction of that investment we could save Twitter and the worlds premier micro-blogging network.

To Twitters credit they have finally hired a business development person. A good step in figuring out the revenue side of their equation. However, here is my New Year’s gift to Twitter.

Twitter has a large following and seems to have no way to make money, or does it?

One of my colleagues seems to have broken the revenue code for Twitter. Since she asked that I protect her identity I will call her “Mickey”. Mickey has been blogging with Twitter for a couple of years. Her Tweets have a modest number of followers: perhaps a couple of co-workers, friends, relatives and a few random lurkers. What was valuable about Mickey’s Twitter existence was her Twitter name. It seems that a company that wanted to broadcast their product messages on Twitter desired Mickey’s Twitter name. Similar to those who made money by domain sitting on website names, there is actually a real economy in Twitter names!

Mickey and this company negotiated a settlement with real cash exchanging hands.

band

A recent article in Venture Beat revealed that 93 of the top 100 brands do not own their own Twitter brand names. Naturally this “opportunity” is not unique to Twitter. Clearly the same economy exists at Facebook, MySpace and Bebo.

All of these social networks have become large transmission networks for targeted content and thus have an obvious commercial value.

A big difference between Internet domain names and the private namespaces of social networks is that they are privately owned and reserved by the owners of the SN. The Internet has the Uniform Dispute Resolution Mechanism, while there is no such mechanism for Social Networks. These networks operate within the normal commercial guidelines of any business and are thus subject to trademark and copyright laws within the jurisdictions of their business. Namespaces for Social Networks are in a big gray area right now.

In the Twitter terms and conditions they state:

“We reserve the right to reclaim usernames on behalf of businesses or individuals that hold legal claim or trademark on those usernames.”

Now back to Mickey.

Why should Twitter allow their subscribers to barter usernames and not profit from the network that they own?

Here are my two suggestions for Twitters Commercial Business Model.

obamaFirst, Twitter should recover all trade names for companies that are owned by individuals who are speculators and not official company officials. (At least Mickey got her payment!) This move would signal that Twitter is serious about the business use of their network. Any company that wants to do business on Twitter and capitalize from their valuable network should have to pay a direct fixed monthly fee to Twitter. In addition, a variable monthly fee can be gained based on number of Tweets and followers. These businesses would pay for access to millions of subscribers, just like advertisers pay for television ads.

Second, Twitter should build a business-matching engine. This feature would suggest that users follow certain commercial channels based on their Tweets, interests and other fans and followers.

These suggestions are not going to garner 100’s of millions for Twitter, but they are the prerequisite to larger advertising and subscription models.

If they follow some of these ideas, Prsident Obama can spend more money for the bailouts of CitiGroup, Ford and GM.

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Filed under advertising, E-Commerce, economy, mobile, mobile advertising, mobile commerce, obama, politics, social networking, Twitter

Would you have invested in this start-up? Its made over $500M!

The World’s most successful E-Commerce Start-Up is planning a successful exit after just 24 months.

Imagine you are an Investor listening to this company’s pitch.

The date is early 2007. Decide if you would invest.

The business plan shows projections of almost $500M in revenue by 3Q2008.   They estimate in excess of 40M registered users with average revenue per user “purchase” event of over $80.  There will be a significant amount of return uses.   Users will gladly opt-in to your marketing messages and receive upwards of 7 promotional emails per week.   The opt-out rate will be quite low.

The company will use social networking and viral marketing to a degree not yet seen in their product category

Facebook, Linkedin, MySpace, Flickr, Youtube, BlackPlannet , Asian Avenue, Faithbase, EONS, Digg, Eventful, Mybatanga, and probably more will all promote the product

Many of the subscribers of this service will also gladly donate their time to this company to help promote its leadership and mission.

The product will be promoted via a combination of online advertising, mobile shortcodes, television, radio, print ads. Most importantly,there will be personal appearances by the company’s charismatic leader.  He will draw crowds in excess of 50,000 to hear him speak.

Included in the investor pitch deck is a plan for a 30 minute infomercial in prime time on 5 national networks.

Oh, and the product that people are getting for all this money?

Hope and Change.

This company plans a successful exit on Tuesday.

Regardless of your politics, you have to admire the unprecedented E-commerce effort of the Obama team.

If Kennedy was the first President to really understand and utilize TV, future historians will name Obama as the first candidate (perhaps President?) that fully capitalized on the Internet as a powerful fund raising (E-Commerce) vehicle. Continue reading

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Filed under E-Commerce, Election, mobile, obama, politics