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Thursday, December 31, 2009

This Year in Web Videos, Four Different Ways

This Year in Web Videos, Four Different Ways
BY Kit EatonWed Dec 16, 2009 at 6:35 PM

year in web videos

Ah, digital photography and videos--my old, er, new friends. And powerful tools too: Good for capturing the passing moment. Or for documenting the passing year. Here are four videos that do just that, in very very different ways.

YouTube's Most Popular Clips of 2009

This was a big year for YouTube, with some innovations and a rising audience. But the most surprising thing about its most popular videos of 2009 was that the list was so music act-heavy that YouTube had to break it into two lists--one for music, one for everything else. As noted over at AllThingsD it's because otherwise "people like you and me, who have only a vague idea who Pitbull and Keri Hilson are, would have been totally baffled."

The music top ten crown went to Pitbull with I know you want me raking in over 88 million views, beating Miley Cyrus's The Climb into second place with just 64 million peeps. But the non-music list is topped by the winner of UK TV show "Britain's Got Talent" Susan Boyle...somewhat making a mockery of Google's list-splitting tactics. To that end, here's YouTube's third most popular non-music clip globally (which does have music in, but it's sweet and at least trying to raise money for charity.)

China's 2009 WebClips

Over at Shanghaiist, Elaine Chow has done a fab job of rounding up a slew of Internet videos and pics that you mightn't have seen. Unless you're a Chinese Netizen, that is. Among the gems are Obama Girl (an attractive student sitting behind President Obama at a speech, who paid to become a minor net celeb), Michael Jackson Face Boy (youngster doing amusing lip synchs to MJ songs) and Long Legs Girl (a volunteer at the Olympics opening ceremony, famous after people noticed her astonishingly long legs.)

Check out the list--it'll remind you that the Internet is not exclusively a U.S. phenomenon, or even one belonging to us here in what we deem the Western half of the globe. China too has its net crazies, and bad reality/talent TV shows: Here's a clip of Zeng Ki Ye. She was a contestant in the Happy Girls show, and though she didn't win, her mind-bogglingly bad singing somehow got her 15 minutes of fame.

Gawker's Top 100 Web Videos of 2009

The always lateral-thinking, nose-thumbing publication Gawker has crafted it's own slant on the webclips that helped defined this year online. And by webclips, I really do mean webclips: Funny dogs, cats, freakouts, fat kids, giant seagulls. Yes, it's what some might deem the dregs of this year's Internet video, while others (between snorts of laughter) will argue they're a perfect way to cheer up a boring day of work with some lunchtime *ahem* clip-viewing.

Gawker's list is topped by "The Amazing Beat Box Kid" and proceeds through "Kick to the Face #1," "Jesus Pwn3d U" and 96 others before arriving at "Keyboard cat." Check it out below. It's less than three minutes, and I guarantee you'll laugh, sob and snigger at least once each, before crashing into a blue funk and worrying about the state of the world you're living in.

Terrapin Gardens Farm

No idea what that sub-headline is going to lead to? Good. Watch this: It's long, at around 16 minutes, but it's the antidote to the clips above. And it's just calmly beautiful.

Something of a labor of love by editor/director Rick Scully, this is a time lapse masterpiece of snaps taken every two minutes for 365 days--ending on May 11th this year--of Terrapin Gardens Farm in Tunbridge, Vermont. Look closely and you'll see weather, the seasons, and the comings and goings of people, vehicles, animals and vegetation.

And aside from the fascination offered by that, the way Scully made the thing is novel all by itself: This was no super-expensive high tech deal. He hacked a very old JVC analog video camera together with a $75 video-capture card hooked up over USB 1.1 to an aging eMac that could only snag low-res (320 by 240 pixels) images, which he then compiled in iMove'09. This low-tech setup is a big part of the charm of the video. "A year goes by fast enough" as Scully notes, and technology presses ever forwards--in 2010 there will be a whole bunch more. And that makes it satisfying that there's still a place for low-fi solutions to artistic problems.

Read more Tech News on our Technology Channel

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Websites that died in 2009

Websites that died in 2009
11:41, December 30, 2009

While some websites have flourished in 2009, most notably Facebook and Twitter, others have fallen by the wayside. Many sites that died were relatively small enterprises. But even the big Internet giants, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo ditched once popular services and websites.

January saw Google''s changes to Jaiku and Dodgeball. Jaiku, a social networking, micro-blogging and lifestreaming service comparable to Twitter, was not shut but will be left to flounder. On January 14, 2009 it was announced that Google would be open-sourcing the product but would "no longer actively develop the Jaiku codebase" leaving development to a "passionate volunteer team of Googlers". Dodgeball was a location-based social networking software provider for mobile devices. Users would text their location to the service, which then notified them of crushes, friends, friends'' friends and interesting venues nearby. Dodgeball was shut down by Google in March 2009 and replaced with Google Latitude. Google Notebook was also shutdown for new users as cloud services like Google Docs increased in popularity. Another cloud service owned by Yahoo also announced its closure in January. Yahoo''s Briefcase had been deemed somewhat useless by many observers. The site offered 30MB of online storage, a number that was quite useful when it was launched in 1999. However this was quickly eclipsed by other Web storage providers and Web mail services. Users were given two months to download any files before it was shutdown.

February saw the demise of Jubii, an online communication utility. It included e-mail, text chat, VoIP, and file hosting--all in one tool. However it was seen as being incomplete with tools that did not tie into other existing services. The Jubii brand was actually an attempt to repackage the Lycos brand to U.S. users, however it, along with the European versions of Lycos Mail and Tripod Internet hosting, were shelved in mid-February. HP''s Upline was an online backup solution built off of Titanize, a product it had absorbed as a result of acquiring makers Opelin in 2007. Upline let users back up their home and work computers to the cloud for a yearly fee. Unlike some of the other storage providers, Upline''s paid plans offered unlimited storage. But in late February Upline announced it was to shutdown the service at the end of March, giving users a little more than a month to grab their files from HP''s servers.

Microsoft''s Encarta began as a software encyclopedia and later moved to the Web. Microsoft ran it as a subscription service, but in order to compete with free services like Wikipedia, the company provided portions of it that were supplemented with advertisements to non-subscribers. But in late March, the software giant announced that it would be discontinuing both the online and software-based versions of the site. The service was finally shelved in October though the company continues to use Encarta''s namesake for its free, online dictionary service. Japan''s Encarta site remains online but is due to close on December 31, 2009.

Wikia Search launched in January of 2008 with the idea that it let users control the rankings of search results. The hope was to let people constantly vote up more relevant pages, while letting the less-relevant pages move down. Wikia and Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales hoped the system would spread across the Web, as it was made open-source, but it failed to do so. At its peak the site drew around 10,000 users a month. But with competition from Google''s own similar solution, called Search Wiki, Wales called it quits on Wikia Search in March.

SpiralFrog, a music download service based in New York, collapsed in late March under a mountain of debt. The site, launched in the United States and Canada in September 2007, offered free and legal music downloads, all supported by advertising. But on March 19, 2009, SpiralFrog terminated operations due to loan recalls. Unnamed sources say that the music provider supposedly tried to borrow at least 9 million U.S. dollars last year to stay in business. Its shut down came on the heels of another ad-supported music provider, Ruckus, which was geared toward college students. Users who had downloaded music from the site were also left with unplayable tracks due to strict DRM conditions (Digital Rights Management) that required logging into the site every 60 days.

Yahoo closed another of its services in June. was a website that provided free video editing and hosting services. Launched in January 2006, it was was purchased by Yahoo in October of the same year. But due to corporate prioritizing and the on-going financial problems at Yahoo, the upload service was terminated in December 2008 and the site was closed on June 15, 2009. Then came another Yahoo coffin. Geocites, one of the oldest web hosting services, shut down confining to history some of the earliest existing online content. Yahoo picked up personal Web site maker Geocities in January 1999 for a staggering 3.65 billion dollars in stock. Many of its most fervent users moved to other hosting providers partly due to poor, post-purchase choices from Yahoo that changed the site''s terms of service as well as core functionality. The rise of easy blogging tools and social networks, which for many was a simpler way to publish personal information, also helped bring the death-knell for Geocities. Yahoo announced its decision in April and finally shut the site down in late October.

It was not a good year for Yahoo users who then saw Yahoo! 360° consigned to the dustbin. Yahoo! 360° was a personal communication portal similar to other social networking sites. The site included social networking, blogging, and photo sharing services. Users could create personal web sites, share photos from Yahoo! Photos, maintain blogs, lists of local reviews, supply profile information, and see which friends are currently online. In May 2009 Yahoo! announced that the Yahoo! 360° service would close on July 13, 2009 as Yahoo! developers aimed to "focus their efforts on the new profile on Yahoo". The site wasn't killed off entirely though. Despite its lack of popularity at large, it was remains popular in Vietnam where it is still available.

As well as its Encarta service, Microsoft also shutdown Windows Live Events which had been an effort to replace services like Evite, Facebook events, MyPunchbowl, etc. It was launched as part of the Windows Live rebranding back in late 2007, and let users create events that could be shared publicly. More importantly, it was a smooth move to get users friendly with other Microsoft services like Live Spaces and Live Messenger. But in August, Microsoft announced that it would be closing up Windows Live Events in favor of building some of its functionality into Windows Live Calendar. In September, the company disabled the capability to create new events. Come April 2010 the site will be taken offline entirely.

Facial recognition was big in 2009, but not for face-finding tech Riya. It shuttered its doors in late August. It had come close to being snatched up by Google just four years prior, but the search giant instead went with competitor Neven Vision. Riya was simply overshadowed by tech giants who had time to catch up with their own facial recognition products. This included Google with its Picasa Web albums and photo library software, both of which were offered free of charge. Even Apple, has introduced its own facial recognition features as a part of its latest iLife release.

Google's telecommunications service GrandCentral will shut shop at the end of the year. The voice service was acquired in 2007 but has been left dormant for more than a year. However, it has effectively been reborn in the form of Google Voice and old GrandCentral users will be switched to the new service.


Using The Cloud Computing For Business

Using The Cloud For Business
Dan Woods, 12.29.09, 06:00 PM EST
Why the cloud is much more than a technology phenomenon.

Jan Baan, founder of Baan Corp., was present at the creation of enterprise resource planning. While leading the ERP software company from 1978–98, Baan observed what worked well and what failed as companies automated their business processes using a datacentric approach. For the past 10 years, Baan has spent his time and more than
250 million euros ($360 million) of his money on Cordys, a software company that creates what Baan calls a business operations platform. In this Q&A, Baan examines what the cloud means for business, what went wrong with ERP, and how a business operations platform delivers flexible automation of business processes that can be optimized through cloud computing.

Forbes: Why are companies getting the cloud wrong?

Baan: If you want to get the cloud right, put away the slide decks on virtualization and infrastructure and start thinking about who you should be working with and how to work with them, and then think about how you can support that better than ever before. Too many people look at the cloud as a technology phenomenon when they should look at it as a business opportunity and an accelerator for collaboration. The cloud is an environment for creating ways of doing business that are radically different from monolithic ERP-based processes. The age of command-and-control in business technology is over. You empower the knowledge worker through collaboration.

What does the cloud really mean for business?

Business processes should be the core element in the cloud, not Word documents or e-mail. Everything in the cloud should grow out of an inherently collaborative business process. You have to think beyond the business processes in your company to linking your customers' customers to your suppliers' suppliers, and draw them all together in a common end-to-end business process. You can create those relationships much faster now, but people aren't taking advantage of it. They are still very much in the ERP paradigm, which can be limiting. The cloud allows everyone to focus on their own processes, share them with others, and add some individual elements to their own processes and optimize them.

Some of these same promises about end-to-end business processes were made about ERP when it was new. What went wrong?

In the ERP world, everything is data-centric. Data is king, and business processes became embedded in data silos. Many big companies have created stovepipes that are isolated from each other, with business processes stored in the data. The vendor's best practices are then overlaid on the processes. Those stovepipes are still isolated, trapped on premise. That inhibits innovation.

What is your vision of making the cloud work for business?

I don't want to imply that everything has to be on the cloud. The optimal situation is a combination--a kind of composition between legacy systems and the optimized business process from the business and its partners, and it lives in the cloud.

I call it a business operations platform, a bridge between traditional service-oriented architecture and some of the heavy-duty infrastructure and standard components from ERP. Business components are decoupled from underlying technology. The concept of "programming," in which a businessperson conceives of an idea and technologists program something that achieves it, gives way to describing a business process, and the IT landscape responds in kind. There is much more of a "what you model is what you get" feeling to this new paradigm.

What is the role of ERP in this scenario?

Your ERP system, along with a product life-cycle management system, logistics systems and others, can be integrated and used as vanilla components, while being further enhanced by best practices or best processes, achieving a state of operational effectiveness. Take what you have learned through years of experience with ERP and apply it to the cloud.

What are the benefits of getting this right?

Dramatic improvements in business processes, reduction in IT costs, and a radical expansion of partners to help you run your business. Applications in the cloud cost less than 10% of an on-premises application. That means double-digit-percentage cost savings, and, more importantly, a boost to the value stream. Lead time for product creation can be reduced from 60 days to one or two hours. It's already happening. Instead of building a car in six weeks, we can do it in a day.

What stands in the way of this transformation?

First of all, the role of CIO sometimes seems afraid of its own shadow. The CIO should become more of a business leader. Maybe we should change the title Chief Information Officer to Chief Process Officer (CPO).

CIOs with guts are crucial to change. The CEO is too isolated and unaware of the development of these trends, but now the CIO, in the new role of a CPO, could be a tremendous asset to the CEO, providing leadership for changing the company and improving business processes. The value is in aligning IT and business, and the CPO is much more on the business side, not just on the IT side.

Too much attention is focused on technology innovation and not enough on business innovation. When that happens, we add functionality, but also complexity. The technology innovations with real impact are those that reduce complexity.

IT should be democratized in the same way Henry Ford democratized the car. Currently, fully functional IT is only for Fortune 1000 companies with a big budget. In the future, the benefits of IT will be available for everyone. Small and medium-size enterprises are, with the new technology wave of a business operations platform, able to connect their supply chain much faster than Fortune 1000 companies can. Agility is the mantra for today's smart companies.

Social media and cloud computing are exciting because they foreshadow this future.

Dan Woods is chief technology officer and editor of Evolved Technologist, a research firm focused on the needs of CTOs and CIOs. He consults for many of the other companies he writes about. For more information, go to

Trouble ahead for US community banks

Trouble ahead for community banks
By Rob Cox, breakingviews.comDecember 29, 2009: 3:03 PM ET

( -- During the recent financial crisis it appeared that America's small banks could do no wrong. President Barack Obama said the world would have been better off if the entire financial system had been more like them.

Legislators tried to ease their burden, often at the expense of their bigger banking competitors. Last week, community bankers even won a meeting with the president to try to convince him to reduce red tape on their part of the industry.

But while it's true that the nation's 8,000 small banks mostly managed to avoid the excesses of their mega rivals and are healthier than big ones, they're not yet out of the woods.

A majority of the 140 banks that have failed were small -- and most on regulators' watch lists have less than $10 billion in assets. As Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500), Citigroup (C, Fortune 500) and other problem hulks of the financial firmament have shored up their balance sheets and exited the government's bailout scheme, the small bank fraternity could see more pain ahead.

Take net charge-offs as a percentage of average loans, a measure of the relative health of loan portfolios. For banks with less than $5 billion of assets, these amounted to just 0.25% in the third quarter, compared to 1.53% at larger banks, according to SNL Financial. But the percentage actually declined somewhat from the second quarter for the big banks and rose by a quarter for the small ones.

One of the biggest problems smaller banks face is that they generally have higher concentrations of their loan books in commercial real estate, a sector that investors expect has further to fall. That could result in greater asset writedowns for this heretofore healthier corner of the banking world. Losses on real estate could lead to more failures and easily stymie lending, particularly to smaller businesses.

Though they account for less than 12% of all American banking assets, financial institutions with less than $1 billion of assets make nearly a third of all loans of $1 million or less to companies, according to the Independent Community Bankers Association, eight of whose members met President Obama last week. Less lending from such banks could have powerful knock-on effects for an economy struggling to rebound.

For now, America's smaller banks have more capital, make more on their assets, and have fewer problem loans. But as defaults in the commercial real estate arena begin in earnest next year -- and consumers continue to feel the economy's pinch -- the relative fortunes of the small fry and leviathans of finance will almost certainly converge.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Making Money with Social Media

Making Money with Social Media

Do blogs and tweets help a company's bottom line? An Austin-based startup thinks it has the answer.

By Erika Jonietz

In retrospect, 2009 may be viewed as the year "social media" came of age: Facebook passed 350 million active users, Oprah made Twitter mainstream, and LinkedIn introduced a service to help recruiting agencies search the site for job candidates. But using microblogs, photoblogs, user-generated content, and even traditional blogs to interact with customers takes time and money, and some companies still question whether all that effort is doing them any good. So how does a company not only measure the results of its social media efforts but also effectively manage them?

Early in December, Social Agency, a five-person startup based in Austin, TX, launched a Web-based software package called Spredfast that helps companies manage their social media campaigns. The software not only measures audience size and engagement but also allows coordinated planning and automated posting across multiple social media platforms.

Specifically, the Web-based software counts how many people view a company's Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, and Flickr updates, as well as posts managed by several popular blogging platforms, such as Moveable Type, WordPress, Blogger, Lotus Live, and Drupal. It also measures how the audience is interacting with all this content--for instance, how much they are commenting on posts, clicking on links, or retweeting updates.

The goal, says Social Agency cofounder Scott McCaskill, is to let companies see "whether all the time put into doing those things is really helping build brand or product awareness, which kinds of content are most successful, what days and even times of day result in the most traffic or new followers/friends."

A free version allows a company to manage a single identity or "voice" across each platform. Paid versions let companies coordinate multiple users and voices, and provide a longer data history. McCaskill says the software has had the most success with units of large companies and marketing agencies.

Spredfast gives companies a way to plan and manage content deployment. For instance, users can write blog entries, tweets, or Facebook updates ahead of time and then schedule when they will be posted. A store that might offer an online coupon code or one-day sale could, with Spredfast, have Twitter push that code out several times a day to increase the number of site visitors. The software's metrics, McCaskill says, let marketers figure out the best times to post updates. Spredfast also makes it easy for them to test different strategies.

The company launched a year ago as a maker of custom Facebook applications. When Facebook redesigned its home page, says McCaskill, Social Agency's business model was effectively torpedoed. As part of its sales strategy, the company had spent a lot of time helping clients plan their social media strategies. So the founders retooled and used their expertise to start building Spredfast about nine months ago. The software launched in private beta in September, public beta in October, and had its "official" launch on December 2.

Social Agency plans to introduce a feature by the end of January that will help users design a social media campaign based on their objectives. McCaskill says that Spredfast will most likely present users with a list of common marketing goals that they can check off. The software will suggest a template for a campaign based on what's worked best for clients with similar goals.

The Decade of Big Zero

The Big Zero

Published: December 27, 2009

Maybe we knew, at some unconscious, instinctive level, that it would be an era best forgotten. Whatever the reason, we got through the first decade of the new millennium without ever agreeing on what to call it. The aughts? The naughties? Whatever. (Yes, I know that strictly speaking the millennium didn’t begin until 2001. Do we really care?)

But from an economic point of view, I’d suggest that we call the decade past the Big Zero. It was a decade in which nothing good happened, and none of the optimistic things we were supposed to believe turned out to be true.

It was a decade with basically zero job creation. O.K., the headline employment number for December 2009 will be slightly higher than that for December 1999, but only slightly. And private-sector employment has actually declined — the first decade on record in which that happened.

It was a decade with zero economic gains for the typical family. Actually, even at the height of the alleged “Bush boom,” in 2007, median household income adjusted for inflation was lower than it had been in 1999. And you know what happened next.

It was a decade of zero gains for homeowners, even if they bought early: right now housing prices, adjusted for inflation, are roughly back to where they were at the beginning of the decade. And for those who bought in the decade’s middle years — when all the serious people ridiculed warnings that housing prices made no sense, that we were in the middle of a gigantic bubble — well, I feel your pain. Almost a quarter of all mortgages in America, and 45 percent of mortgages in Florida, are underwater, with owners owing more than their houses are worth.

Last and least for most Americans — but a big deal for retirement accounts, not to mention the talking heads on financial TV — it was a decade of zero gains for stocks, even without taking inflation into account. Remember the excitement when the Dow first topped 10,000, and best-selling books like “Dow 36,000” predicted that the good times would just keep rolling? Well, that was back in 1999. Last week the market closed at 10,520.

So there was a whole lot of nothing going on in measures of economic progress or success. Funny how that happened.

For as the decade began, there was an overwhelming sense of economic triumphalism in America’s business and political establishments, a belief that we — more than anyone else in the world — knew what we were doing.

Let me quote from a speech that Lawrence Summers, then deputy Treasury secretary (and now the Obama administration’s top economist), gave in 1999. “If you ask why the American financial system succeeds,” he said, “at least my reading of the history would be that there is no innovation more important than that of generally accepted accounting principles: it means that every investor gets to see information presented on a comparable basis; that there is discipline on company managements in the way they report and monitor their activities.” And he went on to declare that there is “an ongoing process that really is what makes our capital market work and work as stably as it does.”

So here’s what Mr. Summers — and, to be fair, just about everyone in a policy-making position at the time — believed in 1999: America has honest corporate accounting; this lets investors make good decisions, and also forces management to behave responsibly; and the result is a stable, well-functioning financial system.

What percentage of all this turned out to be true? Zero.

What was truly impressive about the decade past, however, was our unwillingness, as a nation, to learn from our mistakes.

Even as the dot-com bubble deflated, credulous bankers and investors began inflating a new bubble in housing. Even after famous, admired companies like Enron and WorldCom were revealed to have been Potemkin corporations with facades built out of creative accounting, analysts and investors believed banks’ claims about their own financial strength and bought into the hype about investments they didn’t understand. Even after triggering a global economic collapse, and having to be rescued at taxpayers’ expense, bankers wasted no time going right back to the culture of giant bonuses and excessive leverage.

Then there are the politicians. Even now, it’s hard to get Democrats, President Obama included, to deliver a full-throated critique of the practices that got us into the mess we’re in. And as for the Republicans: now that their policies of tax cuts and deregulation have led us into an economic quagmire, their prescription for recovery is — tax cuts and deregulation.

So let’s bid a not at all fond farewell to the Big Zero — the decade in which we achieved nothing and learned nothing. Will the next decade be better? Stay tuned. Oh, and happy New Year.

China Charts Its Own Path

China Charts Its Own Path
Keith R. McCullough, 12.28.09, 09:30 AM EST

While America dithers, the Chinese set up a currency reserve fund against -- U.S. crashes.

"Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you."--Leroy "Satchel" Paige

Satchel Paige was an American baseball legend who played ball from 1926–66. He was the first player from the Negro Leagues to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was one of America's great winners.
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The saddest part about Paige's success is probably that it took America too long to realize it. The man didn't play his first game in Major League Baseball until he was 42 years old. American Groupthink isn't new. It's always been a part of our culture. We are human. So are the Chinese.

This morning the Chinese are reminding us that: 1) they are still wearing the pants in this relationship; and 2) they aren't leaving this new game of global financial risk anytime soon. China is heading into 2010 with a full head of political and economic steam. If America and Europe don't let her into the major league of global finance, China may very well just start up her own.

This morning, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), plus China, Japan and South Korea, have announced that they are moving forward with the Chiang Mai Initiative and forming a $120 billion foreign-currency reserve pool. In a joint statement, the countries said the move was intended to "strengthen the region's capacity to safeguard against increased risks and challenges in the global economy." In Mandarin, that means protect against American crashes.

Chiang Mai is a city in northern Thailand that sits strategically on the Ping River. This is where plenty of Asian trading has been done over the last few centuries. This is where Asia's new economic powers decided to lock arms and play some red rover with Western leaders of Perceived Financial Wisdom.

China and the U.S. are in two totally different situations,China is developing and growing trying to stabilize and manage that growth, so far successfully. We on the other hand have had the large

Like MLB ignoring Satchel Paige, Westerners ignoring the new reality of Asian economic power doesn't mean it ceases to exist. The Asians have been working on forming their own economic safety nets since the Japanese tried to form the Asian Monetary Fund in 1997. The Chiang Mai Initiative was formed in May 2006. Today is simply a recognition that the proactively prepared have a plan--and they are executing on it.

An analyst at Bank of America ( BAC - news - people ) is revealing to his squadrons of consensus callers this morning that China could see her property bubble "pop." Hello, McFly--the Chinese property stocks peaked in July of this year and have been popping for three months! Understand that many sell-siders on this side of the pond really don't know what they don’t know.

China's premier, Wen Jiabao, is very aware of his liabilities. Unlike Bush and Obama, he seems to actually know what he doesn't know. He and his financial leadership team have been explicitly targeting the property and loan markets for the last 3 months. They are not behaving as willfully blind as we were.

This morning, here's what Wen told Xinhua, the Chinese News Agency: "Property prices have risen too quickly in some areas and we should use taxes and loan interest rates to stabilize them."
Dugg on

Unlike the U.S., which keeps interest rates at zero to fuel debt-fueled asset-price speculation, at least China has a plan to both generate savings amongst her citizenry (with a savings rate of return greater than zero) and, at the same time, show some respect for the cost of capital.

On the currency front, Wen said that China will "absolutely not yield" to the Western calls for currency appreciation. He explained that the plan will remain the plan, and that China will move both her currency and interest rate policies whenever she darn well pleases. Sound familiar? It should. That's what we do.

2010 will be here by the end of this week, and so will China overtaking Japan as the world's second-largest economy. For a long time Americans and Europeans could see this economic and political juggernaut coming. For a long time some of us chose to ignore the power of their self-directedness.

As America moves the YouTube dials to another populist debate (whether or not we should reinstitute Glass-Steagall-like regulation in her financial markets in 2010), be certain that the Chinese are going to be moving forward at their already decided pace.

After closing up 1.5% overnight, the Shanghai Composite Index closed at 3,188. Despite the S&P 500 closing at a higher YTD high on Christmas Eve, it’s only up 24.7% for the year. Relative to China's 75.1% gain, that's puny. Kind of like how Satchel Paige made 20-year-old men look with a curveball coming from his 45-year old arm.

My immediate term lines of support and resistance for the S&P 500 are now 1,112 and 1,129, respectively.

Keith R. McCullough is CEO of Researchedge.

Monday, December 28, 2009

From Outsourcing To Multi-Sourcing

From Outsourcing To Multi-Sourcing

Ed Sperling, 12.28.09, 06:00 AM EST

Much has changed since outsourcing was introduced.

IT outsourcing has been around for decades, but in the past it was a one-for-one handoff. Either a company ran the IT department or an outsourcing contractor did it for them.

Much has changed. Companies are choosing from a menu of options and a list of competitive offerings, with results that still aren't fully understood. To help shed light on what's changing, Forbes caught up with Jamie Erbes, chief technology officer for Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ - news - people ) Software and Solutions.
Forbes: Outsourcing IT is hardly a new concept. What's different this time?

Erbes: We've certainly seen this outsourcing trend in the past, but what we're seeing now is uptake of more selective sourcing. The CIO and IT organization are looking at sourcing some of their operation to cloud providers, but not all of it. They're also looking at ways to keep tabs on the integrity of IT as it all blends back together into the business services that they need to offer back to the business units.

What's driving that change?

A lot of conversations I've had recently with customers is how they can capitalize on the resources from various providers including the Amazons and Rackspaces of the world or enterprise services from companies like HP. How can they take advantage of that sourcing model and put an effective framework above it--one that comprehends IT financial management, for example, or service-level aggregation and management? Those are the questions we're starting to hear.

So there's more CIO involvement in the outsourcing?

Yes. If you go back 20 years, the message behind outsourcing was, "Come and take over my IT." The IT organization handed over responsibility for everything including interaction with the business units. It was not just a portion of IT or a piece of the data center. It was all of IT, and in some cases that included the CIO. The change that we've seen is there's a step toward multi-sourcing. There may be a line cut, for example, between infrastructure outsourcing and applications development. Some of these services are best-of-breed outsourcing selections and a lot of analysts are encouraging clients to do multi-sourcing. But when they outsourced to a sole provider, the management level on top and the reporting and transparency was intact. With multi-sourcing you have silos of management and reporting, limited visibility and service-level agreements in silos.

What's the best way to deal with that?

The next step will be to pull all of that together into business services. There's a layer of service management at the enterprise level that is necessary to do all of the translation from the intricate specific detail around service levels, availability and outages, for example.

What does the corporate IT department do in the future?

Before we used to counsel the client on how to be the best they could be at planning, designing, building and running IT. There's still some of that activity, but they need more of a skill set for sourcing, integrating and managing. That's an evolutionary need now within IT.

And it's no longer just about data, right?

That's correct. The whole concept of portfolio management is taking on a new life in these organizations. It's almost like a product manager role that's evolving within IT. One CIO told me he needs a sales and marketing team--and a product management team. They have to understand what they're crafting in terms of cost models and pricing models back to their business. If you look at the aptitude of the type of person that takes, it is like a product manager. You have to be able to talk about the IT capabilities you have and what you can offer to the business because now the business has choice. The last thing you want is for them to avoid IT. If IT is a hidden-cost overhead that's a pain to deal with, it's going to be avoided. The IT organization has to draw the client in with products and services their business wants to consume. That mitigates the desire for businesses to go out and directly obtain these cloud services or software-as-a-service--basically an end-run around IT.

It used to be a matter of assessing technological capabilities and applying them to a business. Now it appears to be less about the technology.

IT always will have to have a competency for understanding the technology, but it's unlikely they'll have to be the expert on server technology in the future. If they do a smart sourcing strategy, they don't need the server experts. But they will need the platform expert to blend the server and storage and the application types to make sure the outsourcing decision they make around the infrastructure-as-a-service fits well with their application strategy.

Who are you selling this stuff to? Is it the companies or the cloud providers?

Our strategy has three prongs. The first is we are a cloud service provider. The other two are in terms of aligning products and consulting and enablement services for the service provider. We helped Verizon ( VZ - news - people ) craft their compute-as-a-service strategy set, for example. We also help the enterprise business to be a better and wiser consumer of services, and to be a better provider of services internally.

Will the software in a cloud be customized, and if not, what is the penalty?

We think the question should be, "What is the cost of all that choice and heterogeneity in the data center?" The penalty you pay is one of the concerns. Customers need to understand application or workload characteristics and to be able to construct private clouds or pooled infrastructure within their own data centers. They need to manage workload against that target, as well as provision applications out to other cloud providers such as Amazon. If you have several choices, each with different compute styles, that should give you the right granularity so you can run them where they should be run. But too much choice and variety is a bad thing. There are some specialized applications such as airline systems where that's required, but for most it is not.

Aside from those specialized cases, is there a difference from one organization to the next?

Some of the mature organizations--those with a concept of ruthless standardization--have normalized their hardware platforms and their networks and their compute styles. They have a handful of compute styles. That's compared to the immature organizations, which may have grown by acquisition or decisions that were made without a clear sense of architecture. Those are very messy environments. Our challenge is to span both environments and hide some of the complexity.

Ed Sperling is the editor of several technology trade publications and has covered technology for more than 20 years. Contact him at

The Cloudy IT Landscape

The Cloudy IT Landscape
Ed Sperling, 12.28.09, 06:00 AM EST
The shift to a utility-based computing model has massive implications for everything we've ever known about IT.
Ed Sperling

Gartner's outlook for the next few years shows a steady migration toward cloud computing, driven at first by cost and then by quality of service. But the bigger issue that emerges from the research house's new report on the effects of cost-cutting and utility-based computing is who's going to be offering what to whom?

The immediate driver for cloud computing on the IT side comes from the economic downturn and the need to cut costs, says Frances Karamouzis, a Gartner research vice president. It's cheaper to outsource some operations to places like India, where labor costs are lower. But over the next couple years, those deals will be renegotiated or revisited as risk-management becomes the big issue.
Article Controls

This shift is massive, both in physical scale and economic impact, and it's tough to make sweeping generalizations. Some CIOs already have a firm grip on risk-management. Others will never care because of their specific business models. But the push toward utility-based outsourcing, which allows companies to turn on and off servers, storage and software, has profound implications for the companies that have provided IT hardware, software and services for decades.

"The competition gets blurred about who buys what from whom," Karamouzis says. "Everyone's business model gets squeezed."

So where is this new competition coming from? First, it's open-source software. Gartner says about 15% to 25% of all software costs is for product support in the way of patches and updates. That has made open source particularly popular in some markets, and the appeal will only grow as IT departments get a firm grip on how they spend money and where those dollars actually go.

The second area of competition is caused by the convergence of software, hardware and services with the emergence of the cloud model and software-as-a-service. That helps explain why large systems vendors have been buying up service companies. IBM ( IBM - news - people ) bought PricewaterhouseCooper's consulting arm, Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ - news - people ) bought EDS and Dell ( DELL - news - people ) bought Perot Systems ( PER - news - people ). But it also shakes up the image of what each company really provides.

"The value is shifting to a relationship-based model that is inherent in the services world," Karamouzis says. "As a result, you could see a company like Accenture ( ACN - news - people ) competing head-to-head with a software company."

But if the real value comes from utility-like service, then how do these companies differentiate themselves from a software company like Oracle, which will also provide service and hardware, or a services company like Accenture, which can establish partnerships to provide everything it doesn't have? And what's to stop service giants from places like India--TaTa Group and WiPro, for example--from moving into the market where they barely had a toehold?

Big changes are coming and so far it's uncertain who will emerge stronger from these shifts. While CIOs enjoy the short-term benefits of pricing benefits and, in many cases, increased service for every dollar spent, the longer-term effects may not be quite so kind to the smaller utility-based service consumers.

Ed Sperling is the editor of several technology trade publications and has covered technology for more than 20 years. Contact him at

Banks set for more belt-tightening in 2010

Banks set for more belt-tightening in 2010

By David Ellis, staff writerDecember 28, 2009: 5:53 AM ET

NEW YORK ( -- Diminutive expense accounts. Flying coach. The lingering threat of layoffs.

That seems to be the new normal in banking these days. And it's unlikely to change in 2010.

Faced with a flurry of new regulations out of Washington and sluggish loan activity that's hurting revenue, lenders are expected to have little choice but to continue tightening their belts next year.

"I think that focus is already starting," said Blake Howells, director of equity research for Becker Capital Management, an investment firm with about $2 billion in assets.

In some instances, budget cuts could be downright severe.

Southeastern powerhouse SunTrust (STI, Fortune 500), for example, is expected to cut its operating expenses, including staffing and advertising, by $1.15 billion next year, or 17%, based on estimates by research firm SNL Financial.

Banking giant Citigroup (C, Fortune 500), which has already managed to find nearly $20 billion in savings over the past year partly through the sale of some of its businesses, is expected to trim almost another $5 billion from its budget by the end of next year, according to SNL.

Such cutbacks, of course, are hardly a surprise given the turmoil banks have endured over the past year, namely the billions of dollars lost to bad loans.

What's even more troubling however, note experts, is that banks now face a whole new set of fees and rules next year that pose a big threat to their bottom line.

One of the biggest problems is the $45 billion in insurance premiums that banks had to pay to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. this year, to help prop up the dwindling fund used to cover bank failures. Banks will have to account for a third of that money in fiscal 2010.

At the same time, banks face a whole new set of new restrictions aimed at protecting the American consumer, including one imposed by the Federal Reserve on overdraft fees. Starting next July, banks will no longer be able to automatically enroll customers in overdraft protection programs, which charge fees when consumers spend more than they have.

Overdraft and non-sufficient fund fees have been a big business for the banking industry. Current projections suggest that lenders will rake in $38.5 billion from those two areas in 2009, according to Moebs Services, an economic research firm.

A big drop in those fees will likely leave most lenders feeling the pinch, note experts.

"I think you are looking at a fairly sizeable blow to revenues," said Seamus McMahon, a long-time industry consultant who runs his own firm McMahon Advisors LLC.

Banks certainly have any number of ways they could save a buck or two, including selling off parts of their business, trimming marketing budgets or telling external consulting firms to take a hike.

But industry experts argue that some lenders may have little choice but to take aim at their biggest source of costs -- employees. On average, salary and benefit expenses tend to make up about half of their operating expenses.

"Over the last year there has been a concerted effort by most financial institutions to bring in expenses through headcount reduction," said Frank Barkocy, director of research at Mendon Capital Advisors, a money manager that invests primarily in bank stocks.

"I think that will be a continued theme as we go forward."

Wall Street firms alone are expected to trim another 32,400 jobs over the next two years, according to estimates published by New York City's Independent Budget Office, a non-partisan agency that reviews the annual city budget.

One problem in all this, note experts, is that lenders have already drastically cut staff levels, and implemented other cost-cutting measures in recent years in an effort to stay ahead of the recession.

Citigroup, for example, has trimmed its worldwide staff by 100,000, or approximately a quarter, over the past two years, partly through the sale of some of its businesses.

The embattled lender also moved to ban off-site meetings late last year, in addition to telling employees to scale back on their use of color copies.

"It's not like these guys have been sitting on their hands for the last couple years," said McMahon.
By cutting too much further, lenders run the risk of going too far and hurting their performance.

And in the face of so many headwinds, don't be surprised if lenders try to cook up a whole new set of fees aimed at revitalizing their business.

"Banks tend to be creative," said Mendon Capital's Barkocy. To top of page

Sunday, December 27, 2009

2010 preview: The polyglot web

2010 preview: The polyglot web

2010 preview: The polyglot web

Imagine what browsing the web would be like if you had to type out addresses in characters you don't recognise, from a language you don't speak. It's a nightmare that will end for hundreds of millions of people in 2010, when the first web addresses written entirely in non-Latin characters come online.

Net regulator ICANN - the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers - conceded in October that more than half of the 1.6 billion people online use languages with scripts not fully compatible with the Latin alphabet. It is now accepting applications for the first non-Latin top level domains (TLDs) - the part of an address after the final "dot". The first national domains, counterparts of .uk or .au, should go live in early 2010. So far, 12 nations, using six different scripts, have applied and some have proudly revealed their desired TLD and given a preview of what the future web will look like.

The first Arabic domain is likely to be Egypt's and in Russia orders are already being taken for the country's hoped-for new TLD. The address HOBЫЙyЧеНЫЙ.pф - a rough translation of "newscientist" with the Cyrillic domain that stands for Russian Federation - can be registered today.

Though they will be invisible to many of today's users, these changes are a bellwether for the web's future. Today Latin-script languages predominate. But before long Chinese will overtake English as the most used language, and web use in other places with scripts of their own, such as India and Russia, is growing fast. The Middle East is spawning new users faster than any other region.

The image below, portraying links between blogs, represents just one facet of the ever-changing shape of the internet. More corrections like the arrival of non-Latin domain names are sure to come as the network underlying everyday life starts to properly live up to its "worldwide" monicker.

New Scientist by Tom Simonite


Ricard said...
True, the article said: before long Chinese will overtake English as the most used language, and web use in other places with scripts of their own, such as India and Russia, is growing fast. The Middle East is spawning new users faster than any other region.

U.S. high-tech work visa application reaches annual limit

SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 25 (Xinhua) -- Applications for H-1B, the favorite work visa for high-tech employers in the United States, finally reached the annual cap this week after a slow start in the year because of the economic recession, local media reported on Friday.

There was only light demand for the normally popular visa in April, when the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began to take applications for this fiscal year's quota of 65,000.

The USCIS announced this week that after nine months, employers in the country finally used up the annual quota, the San Jose Mercury News said in a report.

In comparison, filling the same quota took only one day the previous year, the newspaper noted.

The low pace of H-1B visa applications this year showed "how weak the American economy has been this past year," said Carl Guardino, chief executive officer (CEO) of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, an organization that has more than 200 member companies in the region.

But analysts believed the fact that employers have finally used up the quota may be a good indication for the economy, showing that perhaps high-tech hiring was rebounding.

The H-1B visas are issued to U.S. employers to hire foreign workers in occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise in fields such as science, engineering and computer programming.

The visas, good for three years and renewable for another three, are especially popular with Silicon Valley high-tech companies who use them to attract talent from around the world.

According to Guardino, about 53 percent of engineers in Silicon Valley are foreign born and more than half of the founders or CEOs of new technology companies in the area are also born abroad.

The percentages underscore "the need for talent from around the globe to compete globally," he said.


Ricard said...
It is time to apply China's green cards, more opportunities there now!

10 ways to stop theft of jet engines

10 ways to stop theft of jet engines

And they will work well for any other kind of thefts, too, from overpriced contracts to dubious conversion of land.

WE HAVE our own Tiger scandal. Of all the bizarre things that have been stolen anywhere, anytime, any place, that of two F5 Tiger fighter aircraft engines worth RM100mil from our air force must rank as among the top of the list.

That hefty pieces of equipment can be quietly squirreled out of a high security Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) base and taken all the way to Argentina complete with documentation is a major embarrassment to the country.

More importantly, it is a serious security breach which is no laughing matter, although the event has considerable satirical possibilities and gives weight to that old saying that truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

It takes the spirit of “Malaysia Boleh” to new astronomical heights but for totally the wrong reasons. If only this spirit of ingenuity, innovation and cunning were used for all the right reasons, we would have achieved high-income status a long time ago.

Instead, those engaged in such nefarious and illegal activities seem to be the ones moving up the precarious high-income ladder at a rapid pace, leaving the rest of us gawking up in utter amazement at the means that they have employed to get there.

It materialises too that police reports were made over a year ago — in August last year — even though the engines were discovered to be missing in May.

Why? Only now, after all the publicity, have the police announced that the engines have been traced to Argentina. Why? But we still don’t know if we’ll get them back.

And not only engines were taken away but other aircraft parts. But the avionics equipment — reputedly the most expensive components of a fighter aircraft — is intact. Thank the Lord for small mercies.

Further, it has been announced that a general and 40 others were dismissed from service. Why were they merely dismissed? Is that sufficient punishment for what they may have done? And is there not treason involved when members of the armed forces smuggle out and sell their own equipment?

How is it possible that such a thing can take place even?

Meantime, it was reported that police have released on bail four people, including three low-ranking RMAF personnel, being investigated for the case.

Considering that this involved defence equipment whose new prices are RM100mil, why the hurry to give them bail?

In the wake of all these unanswered questions, we thought it would be useful to enumerate 10 ways to stop the theft of aircraft engines. The methods are good for any other kind of theft too — overpriced contracts, poor contracts, paying for contracts, unauthorised and dubious conversion of land, payment for land conversion — and 1,001 other things you can think of.

In fact, we dare say theft and corruption has come to such a height that it has to be stopped dead in its tracks now — not tomorrow or day after.

Here are our simple, pretty obvious remedies. If only we can find some good men to do it — and it looks like we can’t be sure of getting them even from our uniformed services.

1. Implement a culture of honesty and integrity. The only way this can be done is by example and enforcement. The top must be clean and it must force it down all the way to the rank and file. Honesty must become the norm rather than the exception.

2. Full accountability. Accountability must extend to at least the head of department when widespread and extensive collusion takes place in a department to defraud. Heads must roll and new ones take their place, otherwise you can be sure that action won’t be taken against the culprits.

3. Prompt, fair, efficient, quick investigation and action. There was nothing prompt in this sorry episode except for the speed with which the engines were stolen. The theft was discovered in May last year. By now, the case should have been closed and those responsible should have been severely punished.

4. Stiff punishment. Hopefully from point 3 above, we would have enough evidence to mete out stiff punishment to those responsible befitting the enormity of the crime that they had committed. But let’s not pre-judge. Let’s wait and see who the police charge and how much punishment they get.

5. Openness. We have this tendency to hide our problems. We should tell all sections of government to disclose problems immediately with the threat of disciplinary action if they don’t. Making people wash their dirty linen in public is the surest deterrent to soiling them in the first place.

6. Increasing competency. We need to upgrade competency through all levels of government and put people who are able in charge of all valuable equipment and their upkeep and safe-keeping. Recently, soon after the disclosure of the stolen engines, it came to light that two excavators belonging to a local council are yet to be recovered.

7. Getting good inventory systems. The government should invest in good inventory systems to ensure there is proper tracking and control of all valuable equipment it owns. Of course, following point 7, it must be ensured that there are competent, honest people to run the systems

8. Listen to the Auditor-General. We have heard promises, after the release of the Auditor-General’s Report every year, that those responsible for all that wastage will be brought to book. But unfortunately, we can’t recollect a single case where action has been taken. We still don’t listen to the AG.

9. Introduce whistle-blowing legislation. We must introduce comprehensive whistle-blowing legislation which not only protects those who blow the whistle but encourages people to do so. In fact, it should go beyond that and make it mandatory for all those who know about crime committed to report it to the authorities. If people stood by and watched while thefts were taking place, they should be punished.

10. Check the assets of key people. Police reportedly nabbed some of the offenders in this case because they were living beyond their means. Can’t we do that for a whole lot people? As an aside, we were amazed by a recent case of a former top cop and how his family were fighting over his assets of nearly RM50mil, most of it in cash. A member of the family even said that he amassed his assets because he was an astute investor – in which case he would probably rate higher than Warren Buffett. Should not something like that set alarm bells ringing and police investigating?

If we can follow these 10 measures assiduously, we not only can guarantee that we won’t have another Tiger scandal of our own but we can safely say that we will reduce all other thefts considerably too.

> Like all concerned Malaysians, managing editor P. Gunasegaram is watching to see how this episode ends.


Ricard said...
Ini “Malaysia Boleh”! Innovative? Sighs! Must Learn the right ways lah!

Top Business School Stories of 2009

Top Business School Stories of 2009

Top Business School Stories of 2009
The global financial crisis hammered the MBA job market, school endowments, and financial aid. Some questioned an MBA's value. Bring on 2010

By Alison Damast and Geoff Gloeckler
Business Schools

To call 2009 an interesting year for management education is perhaps an understatement bordering on the extreme. With the global financial crisis taking its toll on everything from the MBA job market and endowments to financial aid and the reputation of the MBA degree itself, 2009 promises to go down in history as a year to forget.

For students and graduates of MBA programs, 2009 was the year that jobs and internship offers became harder to find, even at the top schools; a year when the scarcity of student loans and visas for international students threatened to derail even the best-laid B-school plans; and a year when programs began to rethink the way they teach such subjects as ethics and corporate responsibility. Business school endowments were hit hard and the high cost of tuition was at the fore of every prospective student's thinking.

Of the 10 most popular business school stories on in 2009, seven directly related to the financial crisis. The others looked at a new competitor on the B-school admissions test front, a GMAT cheating alert in China, and three top MBA programs currently without deans. Take some time to go back over the biggest stories of the year and reminisce. For better or worse, 2009 will be a year that the B-school world won't soon forget.

1. Job Market: The No. 1 concern this year for current MBAs, applicants, and recent grads was the job market. Students worried about finding internships and jobs after graduation, applicants wondered if joining the ranks of the unemployed to enroll in an MBA program was a good idea, and newly minted BBAs and MBAs wondered if their post-B-school jobs would hold up. These fears came out in comments readers left on the stories, with many weighing the pros and cons of accepting jobs with lower salaries and fewer responsibilities. Readers who earned MBAs in 2008 and 2007 also chimed in to voice their concerns, many saying they had yet to land that "dream job" and didn't expect to find it in the near future.

MBA Job Outlook Dims

MBA Tales: Searching for Work in a Recession

MBAs Confront a Savage Job Market

2. Loan Crisis: International students who planned to study at U.S. business schools had to scramble to find a student loan provider in 2009, when many of the loan programs they had used to fund their education disappeared. For years students had depended on the popular Citi Assist and Sallie Mae loan programs, which allowed applicants to obtain up to $150,000 without a co-signer to assume stewardship of the loan should the borrower default. Due to the credit crisis in the fall of 2008, those financial lifelines for many international students were pulled and many schools spent the first six months of 2009 trying to find alternative loan providers. It was a tense few months for foreign applicants, many of whom expressed their frustration in more than 250 comments on stories we published on the topic. For many, the uncertain H-1B visa situation, coupled with the loan situation, made the prospect of studying in America too big a risk to take.

By the time spring rolled around, many schools had come up with solutions for foreign students—often just in time for the deadline deposit to reserve a seat in next year's class.

Loan Crisis Hits the MBA World

World to U.S.B-Schools: Thanks, but No Thanks

3. MBAs: Public Enemy No. 1? Were B-schools responsible for the global economic crisis? It's a question that has consumed much of the B-school world for the better part of a year. In a story we ran in May, experts from inside and outside MBA programs weighed in on the debate. Philip Delves Broughton, a Harvard MBA and author of Ahead of the Curve: Two Years at Harvard Business School (Penguin Group, July 2008), directed blame at B-schools, calling the three-letter acronym, MBA, "scarlet letters of shame," and suggesting they stand for "Masters of the Business Apocalypse." Others, such as Richard Cosier, dean of Purdue's Krannert School of Business (Krannert Full-Time MBA Profile), defended MBA programs, saying, "It is my opinion that business schools will continue to produce students who will be part of the solution, rather than the problem."

Readers, meanwhile, started a rousing debate on the topic via the story's comments. Some completely blamed business schools for the crisis, criticizing everything from teaching techniques and the competitive environment MBA programs seem to foster to the overall value of the degree. Others defended today's B-schools, saying business schools are about as responsible for the economic crisis as engineering schools are for global warming. In the end, the common sentiment seemed to be that business schools deserved some blame, but not all of it.
MBAs: Public Enemy No.1?

4. GRE vs. GMAT: For years, the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) had a virtual monopoly over the admission testing arena at business schools. Its well-known entrance exam, the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), was the standard test used to get into business schools in the U.S. and many other schools around the world for decades. That all changed this year when the Educational Testing Service (ETS) started to encroach into GMAC territory, courting business schools and encouraging them to allow students to submit the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) for admissions. ETS' efforts are starting to pay off. There are now approximately 285 business schools that allow students to submit the GRE in lieu of the GMAT exam, including the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School(Wharton Full-Time MBA Profile), Harvard Business School(Harvard Full-Time MBA Profile), and New York University's Stern School of Business(Stern Full-Time MBA Profile). ETS says that it expects more than 300 schools to sign on in 2010.

GRE v.GMAT: Battle of the B-School Gatekeepers

5. The Best Part-Time B-Schools: It was an interesting year to survey part-time and executive MBA students. For many prospective students, the thought of spending tens of thousands of dollars on a graduate business degree was frightening. For those already enrolled, fear of job loss and waning corporate support added stress to already intense business programs. At the schools themselves, application numbers were down considerably, as was student satisfaction. Not surprisingly, most student complaints centered on many programs' lack of career services for part-time students. Because more students were paying their own way, they expected the kind of attention that full-time MBAs get in terms of access to recruiters and job openings. This proved to be a real challenge for most business schools, which were unaccustomed to sourcing positions for ultra-experienced EMBA students. When the economy rights itself, interest in part-time and executive MBA programs is expected to rebound, but the need for increased career support is likely here to stay.

A Brutal Wake-Up Call for Part-Time B-Schools

6. The Harvard MBA Oath: As a way to get MBA students talking about ethics, 33 students from Harvard Business School's Class of 2009 approached classmates and asked if they would be willing to sign an oath to "act with utmost integrity" in their professional lives. The idea caught on quickly at HBS and before long, students at other top B-schools followed suit. To date, 1,784 MBA students and graduates have signed the oath via a Web site created by the Harvard students. Readers thought the idea of an MBA oath was a good one in theory, but were skeptical that MBAs—some of whom were responsible for many of the lapses in moral judgment that led to the financial crisis—would follow through on what they agreed to do in the oath.

Harvard's MBA Oath Goes Viral

7. GMAT Cheating in China: China is the latest frontier in GMAC's campaign to prevent students from cheating on the GMAT. In November, a Chinese court barred a Beijing-based Internet site from selling materials such as questions from the GMAT, test prep materials, and PDFs of actual test books. The Web site was owned by Passion Consultancy, a company that coaches Chinese students applying to the top U.S. business schools. As a result of the court ruling, the Web site had to take the copyrighted GMAC material down, pay GMAC $76,000 in compensation, and post a notice from GMAC about the consequences of cheating. It was a victory for GMAC, which has been aggressively pursuing users of such Web sites as well as "proxy" test-takers who are hired to take the exam in place of applicants. GMAC says it will be keeping a close eye on errant Web sites that promote cheating among Chinese GMAT test takers in 2010. The organization has recently filed about 10 administrative complaints with the Chinese copyright office against Web sites that it says illegally carry GMAT preparation material and is constantly scanning for other suspect Web sites around the world, GMAC says.

Crackdown on China GMAT Cheating

8. College Affordability: With college costs spiraling out of control and family financial resources strained to the breaking point, it's no surprise that the issue of college affordability was front and center this year. Nowhere was that more apparent than in a story we published in March about student debt. The story focused on Robert Applebaum, a New York attorney who finished law school owing $80,000 in student loans. His idea was simple: Forgive student loan debt for those earning less than $150,000 a year, a move that he believed would help boost the economy by putting more money in the hands of the middle class. Applebaum's effort, mounted via a Facebook group he started, struck a chord with millions of people who graduated from college with student loans, Readers were eager to share tales of their student loan debts; the story drew more than 400 comments. Some readers criticized Applebaum's idea, saying that it was unrealistic to expect the government to cancel student loan debt, while others praised the concept and the potential it had to jump-start the economy. Applebaum subsequently created a nonprofit to lobby for an overhaul of how higher education is financed in the U.S. Membership in his Facebook group has nearly doubled.

Asking for Student Loan Forgiveness

9. Deans Wanted: As the year comes to a close, three top business schools find themselves in the midst of a dean search. At HBS, Dean Jay Light recently announced that he would be retiring at the end of the 2009-10 school year. At Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management (Kellogg Full-Time MBA Profile), Dean Dipak Jain left his post in September after eight years at the helm.And at Chicago's Booth School of Business (Booth Full-Time MBA Profile), Ted Snyder announced that he would not be seeking a third five-year term as dean and would step down next June. These high-profile vacancies come just as many are questioning the value of the MBA degree, endowments are hurting, and financial markets are in a state of flux. In the world of management education, these are arguably the three most attractive high-profile jobs available—but are also among the most difficult. In the coming months it will be interesting to see how these schools seek their next leader.

Kellogg Dean Steps Down

Harvard B-School Dean Jay Light Stepping Down

Snyder to Step Down as Dean at Chicago Booth

10. B-School Cutbacks: Business schools were hit hard by the Great Recession, with many facing a series of painful declines in endowment earnings and gift-giving, along with state- and university-mandated budget cuts. The ripple effect of endowment declines was even felt at the richest of institutions. At Harvard Business School, where the university's endowment fell to $26 billion, from $36.9 billion, during the fiscal year that ended June 30; the business school laid off 16 staff members this spring. And at Stanford Graduate School of Business(Stanford Full-Time MBA Profile), 49 employees lost their jobs—about 12% of its 400-person staff.At many schools, the decline in the annual operating budget called for even more drastic measures.At Florida State University's College of Business (Florida State Full-Time MBA Profile), budget cuts forced the school to get rid of 110 telephone lines, shut down a computer lab, and cancel some part-time MBA programs.State universities in cash-strapped states such as New York were forced to raise additional revenue by asking students for more money; at the University of Buffalo's School of Management (Buffalo Full-Time MBA Profile), students had to pay an additional $184 in mandatory fees last spring to make up for a $1 million shortfall in the operating budget.

School officials are hoping 2010 will be a slightly easier year, although it could still offer a bumpy ride. A recent survey by the National Association of College and University Business Officers and the nonprofit Commonfund Institute showed that college endowments averaged returns of -19% during the fiscal year, a sign that the hard times haven't yet ended.

Financial Woes Force B-School Cutbacks

Damast is a reporter for Gloeckler is a staff editor for BusinessWeek in New York.



Meeting God’s bankers

RECENTLY, I had the honour of shaking hands with one of God’s top bankers.

He had learnt the art of connecting from someone with Clinton-like charisma. He shook my right hand with a firm grip, with the left hand holding my left elbow, looked me straight in the eye and gave me the impression that he really was completely on my side.

I don’t know about the ladies, but after that I was ready to give him every cent I had to invest until it is all gone.

Why are we all so upset about bankers’ bonuses?

We should never envy the ability of people to make money, but it is the way it was made that made people mad.

It is as if someone had a heart attack, you took him to hospital and paid for the medical bill. Then, the day after, the guy goes out, has a party and you end up again with the bill.

Maybe we should have left the guy on the pavement.

But that is not how one leading Wall Street banker saw it, (

“We’re very important… We help companies to grow by helping them to raise capital. Companies that grow create wealth. This, in turn, allows people to have jobs that create more growth and more wealth. It’s a virtuous cycle. We have a social purpose.”

Last year, governments had no alternative but to rescue banks in a crisis, because their failure would have devastated the real economy. The US Federal Reserve cut interest rates, guaranteed all deposits and converted investment banks into bank holding companies so that they could receive special low interest rate funding.

Are we surprised that with almost zero funding costs, these investment banks are making money hand over fist?

Governments now seem hostage to the “too interconnected to fail” argument. Some bankers seem to have learnt from their Ponzi borrowers – if I borrow US$1,000 from my bank, it’s my problem, but if I borrow US$1bil, it’s the bank’s problem.

The logic of this is the flip side of British comedian Ronnie Barker’s dictum: “Success is relative – the more success, the more relatives.” Loss is also relative, the more loss to more people, the more I can’t lose.

Asians have great difficulty in commenting on the present state of affairs without seemingly criticising our teachers.

After all, we learnt the science of modern banking and financial regulation from the West. I am the first to admit that this crisis has shaken what I learnt about market values to the core.

So where did our teachers go wrong? Financial regulators are the first to preach to bankers to “Know Your Client and Know Your Risks”.

With hindsight, our teachers ignored their own advice because they had not appreciated that the tools and processes that worked for simple retail banking were totally inadequate when the banks had evolved into wholesale banking giants with massive derivative liabilities (hidden in the generally under-regulated shadow banking area).

To be fair, during the Asian crisis, we also failed to understand how Asian corporations were hugely over-leveraged.

The second mistake was also a blind spot. Our teachers failed to appreciate that a fundamental difference between retail banks and wholesale banks is the principal-agent problem.

Historically, banks are regulated because they are agents for public savings. They are the network connectors between the retail public and the corporate and consumer borrowers.

Retail banks are heavily regulated and given a safety net precisely because their failure would have large contagion impact on the depositors and borrowers.

What had happened was that under intense competition, banks could not make money from the declining spread (lending rate minus deposit rate), so they moved into wholesale banking.

They packaged their loans into new derivative instruments to sell and fund themselves and engaged in proprietary trading. In other words, they were less and less agents for their customers and more and more principals in their own right.

This was driven by the idea that banks should be universal and one-stop “financial supermarkets”.

Western regulators had always argued that hedge funds should not be regulated because they are investors, trading on their own account with their own money, so that their failure would not be systemic.

However, when investment banks are trading for their own account, they are actually competing with their customers.

Are they agents (which should be regulated) or are they principals (which should not)? Herein lie the conflict of interest between principal and agent.

No one disputed the old partnership model of merchant banks, because when the merchant banks failed through their proprietary trading, the losses were borne by the partners.

But when investment banks became public companies and also key originators and market makers, their capital inadequacy clearly made the whole system vulnerable.

Should the public guarantee proprietary trading?

If you accept this fundamental principle, why don’t the public guarantee you and me when we do proprietary trading?

Why isn’t a major commodity trader not given a public guarantee, while investment banks are given that safety net?

Arguably, there is now no level playing field between those who do proprietary trading with a public safety net and access to cheap funding and those who don’t.

Hence, it’s not a question of whether banks should be split up under Glass-Steagall because they are too big to fail.

It is because if investment banks primarily engage in proprietary trading, they cannot have their cake and eat it with a public safety net.

To paraphrase Confucius: “Making money should be like frying small squid (or was it fish?) – it must not be overdone.”

·Datuk Seri Panglima Andrew Sheng is author of “From Asian to Global Financial Crisis” and adjunct professor at Tsinghua University, Beijing, and Universiti Malaya.

No more RPGT for properties sold after 5 yrs of purchase in Malaysia

No more RPGT for properties sold after 5 yrs of purchase in Malaysia

No more RPGT for properties sold after 5 yrs of purchase in Malaysia
08:53, December 24, 2009

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced on Wednesday that the Real Property Gains Tax (RPGT) of 5 percent will only be applied to properties sold within five years of purchase.

This implied that a real property seller would not incur the tax if he sold his real property after five years from the date of purchase, said Najib at the swearing-in ceremony of the Federation of Chinese Associations Malaysia (Hua Zong).

By making the decision after receiving appeal from Hua Zong and other industry players, Najib said the Malaysian government would forgo tax revenue amounted to 200 million ringgit (57.14 million U.S. dollars) a year.

The RPGT of 5 percent was announced in the 2010 Budget of the country in October 2009. It was aimed to broaden Malaysia's tax base to finance various development projects and reduce the physical deficits in Malaysia.

With the RPGT applied to less real property sellers, Najib hoped that the move would drive the real estate sector to grow at a speedier rate next year.

Meanwhile, Najib said hotel owners reinvesting in the refurbishment, renovation or expansion of their premises in next five years would receive 60 percent allowance on the extra investment made.

Najib said this was to encourage the hotel owners to tap the great potential in the country's tourism industry, adding that Malaysia was expecting more than 22 million tourist arrivals in the country this year.

Source: Xinhua


Ricard said...
Good news!

Five Lessons from the eBay-Craigslist Fight

Five Lessons from the eBay-Craigslist Fight

Five Lessons from the eBay-Craigslist Fight
Entrepreneurs considering a strategic alliance can learn from the legal battle between the online auctioneer and the online classifieds site, says Tom Taulli

By Tom Taulli
Story Tools

Back in 2004, eBay (EBAY) purchased a 28.5% stake in Craigslist for $32 million. The online auctioneer and the online classifieds company planned to expand into global markets in a joint venture as well as share best practices. However, the relationship quickly deteriorated and eBay launched its own classifieds service, Kijiji, in 2007. EBay claims that there was a lack of seriousness to work together, whereas Craigslist says it wanted to remain in control and continue its mostly free services.

Now, the parties are embroiled in dueling lawsuits: EBay says that its stake was unfairly diluted and wants to get its original equity amount back. Craigslist says it's the victim of unfair competitive practices and violations of confidentiality. It wants to get all its shares back and receive damages for lost profits and malicious actions.

Such disputes are often settled out of court because of the expense and distraction involved, but the lawsuits are moving forward. EBay wants to maximize its ownership in Craigslist, which is a valuable asset (with 50 million unique monthly visitors and 19 billion page views) and continue to learn from its operations. As for the Craigslist, it is in the awkward position of having one of its largest competitors as a major shareholder.

As a result, we can get an inside look at big-time dealmaking—gone wrong and wild—that offers some valuable lessons for any entrepreneur contemplating a strategic agreement with another company. Let's take a look:

1. When issuing stock, include shareholder restrictions. The eBay-Craigslist dispute got its start because of a disgruntled shareholder who wanted the venture to focus much more on increasing profits. The shareholder owned a 28.5% stake in Craigslist and was actively shopping the shares from 2003 to 2004. There was nothing Craigslist could do because the shareholder agreement did not have resale restrictions. It would have been advisable for Craigslist to have insisted on a right-of-first-refusal clause, which gives the company and current investors the right to participate in any share sales before others.

In a similar vein, when transferring equity from your own company, make sure you hire a qualified securities attorney to craft strong resale restrictions. These clauses can get extremely complicated. Check out my previous column for what to consider when choosing a lawyer to help you do this.

2. Spell out the responsibilities of each of the partners. The eBay-Craigslist arrangement was a classic strategic relationship. To keep growing, eBay wanted to enter adjacent markets, such as classifieds. By having a board seat and significant equity stake, the company would be in a position to learn about the dynamics of a successful classifieds business. Ultimately, this could lead to joint ventures or even an acquisition, which is what eBay really wanted, according to the legal briefs.

Craigslist also received benefits, such as learning about running successful online marketplaces, dealing with illegal activities in online forums, putting together professional financial forecasts, and operating in foreign markets.

Then why did this relationship break down? It's far from clear. But there are hints. For example, Craigslist did not want to maximize profits or sell out to eBay. It also appeared that the initial share purchase was rushed by eBay to try to prevent Google (GOOG) from gaining a foothold in the classifieds market.

Generally, it's a good idea to spend time crafting your go-to-market strategy for an alliance and coming up with extensive deliverables before you sign off on the transaction. Key questions for both companies to hash out together include: Who will work on the various parts? What are the timelines? How are the capital contributions allocated? What is the profit split? In a way, it's as if both sides are putting together a comprehensive business plan. For more on what to consider, read my previous column.

3. Put an exit plan in place as part of the deal. It could be in the form of a buyout clause. Craigslist could have negotiated the right to purchase back the equity interest, but eBay rejected this. The company saw its ownership in Craigslist as vital and wanted it to be solid. According to its legal brief, Craigslist said there was a "gentleman's agreement" for a buyout arrangement. But such unwritten agreements are usually not enforceable, especially when they are between two sophisticated parties.

4. Protect confidential information. Intellectual property is often the most valuable asset for a company, especially in the tech world. This is why it's critical to negotiate hard on protecting confidentiality as well as limiting the use of information. As for the eBay-Craigslist dispute, there is disagreement on how broad these protections were in the shareholder agreement. Could this information be used for the launch of Kijiji? The courts will likely decide that question.

Besides strong contractual provisions, it is also smart to find other ways to protect intellectual property from the other party. This might include filing a patent with the federal government and making the technology a trade secret (which means taking comprehensive steps to protect its confidentiality).

5. Beware of tough terms. Even though eBay was a minority shareholder, it still managed to get lots of leverage. In the shareholder agreement, the company negotiated protections such as veto rights over the issuance of new shares; the ability to block certain transactions; a right to inspect the books; and a right of first refusal on the sale of the founders' shares. And of course, there was the right to compete in the classifieds market.

Sound one-sided? Keep in mind that companies with more leverage than yours can exact tough terms—and once you agree to them, it's nearly impossible to get rid of them. Of course, Craigslist did make some strong attempts to do so. By using a variety of intricate legal maneuvers, the company was able to reduce eBay's ownership from 28.5% to 24.85% and even eliminate its board seat. Of course, these actions resulted in one of its current lawsuits, which is likely to be expensive and time-consuming.

Had Craigslist negotiated stronger protections—such as a buyout clause—then these maneuverings would likely have been moot. Of course, there is a good chance that eBay would have balked. If so, the best choice for Craigslist may have been to find another buyer for the interest.

The eBay-Craigslist dispute offers a rare glimpse into the complexities of strategic alliances. Yes, even top operators can botch relationships. Like any complex business arrangement, you need strong planning, tough negotiations, and a good exit plan.


Ricard said...
Good lessons to learn: those compete in the existing markets, you would have to fight with bloody competitors like Red Ocean. Use Blue Ocean strategies, like go to new market with existing products or with different technologies in the same markets. Google, Apple and Microsoft, etc are competing in the same market with different core competencies and they succeeded and thrived in blue ocean, no bloody fight!