Monthly Archives: June 2005

Stupid, sleazy PayPal Feature

I just learned about a PayPal Feature that I don’t like very much.

Merchants can set up subscriptions and those subscriptions will automatically renew.

I’d purchased a software subscription a year ago to get access to some software I wanted to try. I’m not using it any more, so I wasn’t really thinking about it until I got a receipt for a subscription renewal from PayPal.

I checked to see if they’d sent me notice before hand that got sorted as spam (since so much of my spam is PayPal phising attempts). I didn’t find any.

Paypal should automatically notifiy users of automatic renewals a week or so in advance (right now, there is just an option to be notified when, not before, you make a scheduled subscription payment). Futhermore, they should give customers the option of marking subscriptions as automatic or one-time at the time of the transaction, or any time afterwords.

As it is, the only option is to go into your history and cancel a subscription. The problem with this approach is that there is no telling how the merchant will deal with the cancellation. They might cancel your service and keep the money unless you complain, when all you wanted to do is keep the service for the rest of your term without being hit by an automatic renewal.

The current arrangement undermines my trust in both PayPal and the merchants who use them.

Exalead brings a little innovation back to search UI.

Exalead is a new search engine that distinguishes itself with its user interface. Almost all results show thumbnails of the actual results pagelinked page (not just the home page of the site). If the search produces a lot of results, a pane is displayed on the left hand side showing related terms and categories, and allowing filtering by site location and document type. Clicking a result first brings up the page in a frame at the bottom of the results list.

There are some familiar ideas here along with a few i’ve not seen before and it’s well integrated and executed.

It’s a reminder of how little innovation in search UI we’ve seen since Google pared things down to the basics. You’d think that with Google working to keep its lead, and Yahoo and MSN struggling to overtake them, we’d see some innovation.

I give MSN’s some points for trying with the sliders tucked away in their search builder, though the UI makes it painfully clear that most of their investment is in the backend.

“Yahoo’s Mindset”: is an interesting combination of backend tech coupled with a little UI experimentation. Once you do a search, you get a slider with the results which you can use to skew the results towards “shopping,” or “researching.” Changes seem to happen on the fly, suggesting that the filtering is actually happening on the client side via javascript and dynamic HTML.

More entreprenurship, less need for venture capital?

I’m not too slow, it only took me a few hours to put two and two together.

In some research I’ve been doing today I’ve been buffeted by variations on a handful of recurring themes.

Two of them just smacked me in face in quick succession and so now, of course, I flatter myself by thinking I’ve spotted something deep and fundamental. But before I get to what that is, I should introduce the face-smackers.

1. There are twice as many venture capital firms as there were a decade ago, and, all together, they have eight times as much capital under management, even after the bloodletting of the tech-bust The result is that there is more money than there are good opportunities to invest that money. ( more on the “current state of ‘venture'”: )

2. There are a lot of opportunities for the small guy that didn’t seem to exist 5-10 years ago (as Seth Godin puts it ==”==”Small is the new big”:”). This opportunity is driven, in large part of the restructuring of the world economy over the last decade, aided and abetted by huge investments in technology that have automated basic and not so basic business infrastructure.

Ironically, I think people’s willingness to try it on their own as a small operator with big aspirations has been stoked by the impacts of the same forces, which have made the big companies look a lot less attractive as employers as they’ve replaced people with technology and offshore workers without offering anything in the way of retraining.

What struck me, eventually, is that #2 has a lot to do with #1. In many areas, an enterprising person can do a lot more with a lot less now, which means that they need for venture capital has declined, even as the supply has increaced. What’s more it’s easy to imagine that a lot of people who lived through the excesses of the tech bubble, may not be in such a hurry to get big fast, or at all, having seen what happens when a business model that might sustain a niche business for years gets shot full of VC growth hormone, only to flame out and become the butt of jokes and an object of derision.

Technology Review makes me angry.

Technology Review is irritating me.

When I was in college, I used to sneak off into the stacks to read it when I should have been finishing the reading for my english class. Back then it was a primarly black and white glossy with a bit of spot color. It’s main demographic was MIT alumni, and those who thought like them. These days it’s a completely modern magazine, complete with endless redesigns, that resembles far too many of the techbiznophillic magazines of the dot-com era. I used to go to read Tech Review for thoughtful critiques of technology by people who were, often as not, practitioners. There is still some of that there, but I cringe at the amount of boosterism written by people whose first contact with high tech was the computer they used to write on in journalism school.

None of this has anything to do with my current irritation with Technology Review, or perhaps I should say”: my ongoing irritation with Technology Review.

Two or three weeks ago, I tried signing in, only to be told that my browser wasn’t accepting cookies, even though it was, as evidenced by the fact that the technology review website had set 4-5 cookies in my browser. Not that it mattered, because I could see full text on everything.

More irritating was that the categorized navigation was broken, and still is, weeks later. If I go to biotech & healthcare, I see some relevant stuff mixed with an equal amount of irrelevance to the topic at hand, like articles about whether Linux can overthrow Microsoft.

At times like these, it would be nice if sites would post an announcement letting its users know that yes, “we know things are broken and, no, we don’t think you are too stupid to notice or care.”

I do the vast majority of my reading on the web these days. It exposes me to a breadth of fact and opinion that’s hard to get otherwise, but it’s really cut into my consumption of longer form writing, like meaty magazine articles and books. I started using an RSS aggregator to try and make my reading more efficient, but that efficiency has just gone to broadening the sources of information I consume.

I’m not willing to say that I’ve sacrified depth in this approach. Different angles on the same topic come up repeatedly, and the act of stiching such diverse points of view together is a deep activity. Another source of depth come from the fact that most of my RSS reading is from single author blogs. Those authors tend to pursue the same topics over time, and by reading them, one gets a sense for how their own thought evolves. It’s a bit like reading the ongoing drafts of a book that may never be finished.

At the same time, this might not be the most efficient way to gain a deep understanding, it certainly doesn’t take advantage of all the synthesis a book author does, but I think it’s probably one of the most efficient ways of keeping up on topics for which no books have yet been written, and its that sort of frontier that has always fascinated me.

Still, I need to make the time and attention for longer form reading. I particularly miss the pleasure of reading a good novel, perhaps most of all the way my own ability with language seems to expand when I’m spending time immersed in someone elses words for a day or more.

Most of which somehow brings me to the reason I started writing this post, to reccomend “”:, which rather accurately and concisely describes itself as “Rajesh Jain’s Weblog on Emerging Technologies, Enterprises and Markets.”

It’s obvious that Jain is a prolific reader of other weblogs, and he shares the best bits in well chosen blockquotes, adorned with brief comments, and interspersed occasionally with larger expressions of his own thoughtful perspecitve. If you are interested in emerging technologies, particularly around wireless and inexpensive computing; emerging markets, particularly india; and the accompanying business models that are emerging around them, give it a read.

CDBaby, Baby!

My wife just picked up a a copy of the Wakefields CD on CDBaby, which operates out of Portland and sends out amusing confirmation e-mail, so it caught my eye when I saw a post by “someone who works there”: while I was reading a thread on Slashdot about how iTunes Music Store was more a more popular source of music than most illegal file-swapping networks.

I was impressed both by how much business they are doing, and by how much they pass through to the artists.

bq. iTunes More Popular Than Most P2P Sites

bq. My company [] is one of the main distributors of music to Apple iTunes, Rhapsody, Napster, etc.

bq. I gotta admit that when we started doing digital distribution two years ago, I thought it would be just a small income stream for the musicians – some extra income, maybe $5k/month combined.

bq. But our checks from Apple et al have been over $300,000 a month so far this year! And that’s just for our catalog of mostly-unknown all-independent music. (And hey for the record, 91% of all that income goes directly to the musician.)

Also interesting are his comments on the unexpected role of “cover songs in online music sales”: