Category Archives: Internet

Problems for Pandora and other US Web Radio Stations

Pandora is a web site that provides streaming music to your computer, your iPhone, and other devices. It creates customized stations based on music you like and if you give a song a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down”. You can click on a song you like to go to Amazon or iTunes in order to purchase it. It’s great for finding new music and it used to be a good business.

But the record companies are afraid of streaming radio stations. They brought the issue to the Copyright Royalty Board, which decided last year to raise the cost to play a song over the Internet from 8/100 of a cent per song per listener in 2006 to 19/100 of a cent per song per listener in 2010. Pandora only makes revenue on ads on its website, so this will be quite a bite into profits.

The Washington Post recently talked with Pandora.

“We’re approaching a pull-the-plug kind of decision,” said Tim Westergren, who founded Pandora. “This is like a last stand for webcasting.”…

“We’re losing money as it is… The moment we think this problem in Washington is not going to get solved, we have to pull the plug because all we’re doing is wasting money.”

The problem is in Washington with the Copyright Royalty Board’s decision. First, if the music industry understood what was in their best interests, they would encourage the promotion of their music. Second, these rules only apply to the US. So I can still listen to streaming radio coming from Canada or anywhere else. Only US-based sites are punished. Third, no fees are charged to traditional over-the-air radio stations to play music.

Rep. Howard L. Berman of California is trying to negotiate a deal between web radio companies and SoundExchange, which represents the record companies. Hopefully he can encourage a more reasonable approach to music over the Internet.

My MobileMe Experience

Oh My, MobileMe

You’ve probably already heard of the disastrous launch of Apple’s MobileMe service. Apple has taken a lot of heat for this and heads have rolled over at Apple HQ for it. There are still some remaining issues to be fixed but for the most part Apple has gotten MobileMe working. I’m currently using a free MobileMe trial to evaluate it to see if it will meet my needs. The biggest of my needs is getting all of my emails from several accounts on my iPhone as quickly as possible.

Push Email

If you use a standard POP or IMAP email account, you are limited to a 15 minute check frequency in the iPhone Mail application. In addition to that limitation, if you set up multiple accounts, it will drain your battery all the quicker. My solution was to set up just one account on the phone and have all the email accounts I want to get mail from forwarded to that one. MobileMe is the perfect choice because it offers push email. Instead of that 15+ minute wait for new mail notification, push means you get near instant notification of a new message. In my experience, near instant means about 10 seconds or less.

When MobileMe launched, it was simply unreliable. Some of my messages would arrive instantly, others would never notify me without opening the Mail app. Besides a couple of bad days this month, things have worked far more reliably lately although I still manually check the mail if I haven’t gotten any notifications in a while. Once I had my MobileMe account set up on the iPhone, I still had to get all my email accounts forwarding to my username@me.com email address.

VersaForward to Forward Email

I use Email Forwarding by VersaForward Service to get all my mail to my me.com address. You can set up all of your email accounts to forward to the email address you check on your iPhone. This is a service with a fee paid monthly or every 6 months. To get a discount, use the promotional code TECHDC when signing up for a free trial. That will give you 50% off the first 3 months. Alternatively, you can run home desktop versions of VersaForward either with the entry-level VersaForward Personal or the more powerful VersaForward Professional.

Once you’ve got your email forwarding set up, you can get all of your email messages on your iPhone in a timely and reliable fashion.

Other MobileMe Features

MobileMe does cost $99/year although it offers more than just an email address. Push contacts and calendar updates help keep your iPhone, Desktop, and laptop all up to date with your latest changes. The MobileMe Gallery is a very elegant photo sharing system which creates a website with your photos to share with others as you want to.

Besides mail, my favorite MobileMe feature is iDisk. You can basically consider this a hard drive that you have access to on your computer but the data is stored on the internet. It is the simplicity of iDisk on your computer that makes this so useful. It appears like an external hard drive would. Drag files to it like normal. You can log in to me.com to access the files on the iDisk so it is a great place to keep important files that you might need remote access to. You have a total of 20GB of storage on MobileMe. You can allocate this between email and data storage. The iDisk can work with Macs and Windows as well.

Give Me a Chance

MobileMe got off to a slow start but now that it is finally working, you can see the advantages that it offers. For me, the push email is the #1 selling point. As long as it continues to work, I expect to become a paying customer. The free trial lasts 60 days so you can try it yourself to see how you like it.

We need an eBay competitor

Problems on the Auction Block

eBay is the biggest auction site on the internet. This has generally worked well for people. More sellers provide more products to buyers. More buyers are better for sellers. But eBay has taken unfair advantage of this near market monopoly.

Over the last several years eBay has regularly increased fee percentages. For example, if you are a seller and your item ends at $150, then your ending fees will have increased over 40% in the past years. Most recently the final value fee changed from 5.25% to 8%. eBay has tried to hide this by lowering insertion fees, but the overall fees have increased dramatically. eBay also owns PayPal now and takes a cut from that transaction too. See this Fee Calculator for exact fees.

No greater service has come with these fees. eBay still has rampant fraud. Invariably people will email me as a seller asking me to end my auction early in exchange for their paying me early. It’s a Nigerian Prince type scam.

Buyers are still regularly defrauded by sellers who have built up a good reputation by numerous bogus low-cost auction transactions.

eBay has also made things bad for sellers by not allowing them to leave negative feedback for buyers. That’s right. You can leave feedback, but it has to be positive. I recently sold something on eBay and the buyer just didn’t pay. I can’t leave that person negative feedback. eBay has said that this is so that sellers do not have an unfair advantage. But all this has done provide an unfair advantage to buyers.

Competitor Please

Because of eBay’s arrogant attitude toward its customers, it is time for them to get a real competitor. The nature of an auction is that it needs lots of buyers and sellers to work. So it would be easiest for a big company with existing traffic to offer auctions.

Google is the biggest kid on the block. If they started auctions, eBay would be forced to lower prices. However, eBay is Google’s largest customer for its ads. Google has also been slow in moving into the content business, afraid to scare off its advertisers who might be competing with them. Still, Google could easily compete with eBay.

Yahoo gave up on their rival auction site about a year ago. It was odd that Yahoo search engine didn’t feature their search results over those from eBay. Still, Yahoo has many content sites and could try again to advertise a new auction site on its other websites.

Amazon’s Selling on Amazon could be a strong natural competitor. It sells at a fixed price, but has higher fees than eBay. Amazon also has a payment system that is somewhat of a PayPal competitor, but it costs even more and is difficult to use.

An unknown could also compete. But these sites have to do things like offering fixed-price auctions for fear of not enough bidders.  Etsy is for selling handmade goods. ePier is a small and simple auction site.  Overstock.com also has an auction site.

Someone should step up. There are numerous forums with people complaining about eBay’s fees and behavior. People are getting fed up and are ready for a real alternative.

Is Google AdWords worth it?

Google has virtually made all of its money from AdWords. Those are those little ads to the right when you search on Google listed under Sponsored Links. Every time an ad is clicked, Google is likely getting somewhere between $0.10-$1.00. It is the ad owner that pays Google for each and every click. The advertiser defines the ads and bids on keyword search prices. But are the results really worth it?

The shortest answer to that question can be found in the real search results. When you search for your keyword phrase on google right now, do you show up in the top 3 pages? If so, then you probably shouldn’t even consider AdWords. In my experience, visitors that come through an ad link are far less likely to buy than a visitor that comes through the normal search results. I believe that’s because visitors consider the ads to be junky. They trust the real search results more so if you come up well there, that’s far more valuable and you pay nothing for those clicks.

If you are nowhere to be found in the search results on google.com, then AdWords may be able to help you but there are a few things to worry about. A very disturbing thing seems to have happened with Google AdWords this year: price increases. The system is supposed to be an open bidding process. You would think that means you bid whatever you want and then you show up worse if you bid poorly relative to competition. Unfortunately, Google sets minimum bids and if you don’t bid high enough, you won’t show up at all! This mob-like mentality goes against the Google credo “do no evil.” On several occasions, I’ve seen keywords that had low bid prices but were showing in the top 3 ads on average but then get their minimum bid requirements increased. Considering the ads were already showing well, it makes no sense for the minimum bid to be increased unless Google is doing something it shouldn’t be. There should be no minimum bid prices. If you bid relatively low, your ad should simply be shown less frequently and lower down. This is my biggest complaint about AdWords by far.

The worst part about all this is Google’s got you. You have only 2 choices: advertise with them or advertise with no one. They dominate the online search market. Competitors like Yahoo are sadly a joke. My advice is to make sure your site has the keywords you care about repeatedly. Then make sure you submit your url to Google so it can show up in search results. To help your search result placement, you can add your site to directory sites such as the most popular dmoz.org. AdWords may be worth it for some but they will never be as valuable as simply coming up on the first page of the real search results.