Spotify: I know where my friends are, thanks

Spotify has upset users by asking them to share address book contacts, photos and GPS location with the app and cede control of their device’s microphone in order to use the service. A Twitterstorm — and high-profile criticism from vocal netizens such as Minecraft co-founder Markus Persson — forced the streaming music service to apologise and clarify its position. Users can opt in to divulging this data, it seems.

Spotify is already hated by recording artists and labels, because of its derisory royalty payments. The users were the only people rooting for it. Now they hate it, too.

Read More
facebook,deal,new york times

Why the New York Times doesn’t need Facebook

Know the value of your assets. 

I was reading this article on TechCrunch about the New York Times making a deal to allow Facebook to “host” its “content” for free. And I had multiple problems.

The writer (Tom Goodwin, no less) asks:

“So does the New York times [sic] see this as free content marketing to gain subscribers, or as incremental advertising revenue? Only time will, and maybe they don’t even know?”

Once you’ve parsed that into English it seems very clear the NYT doesn’t have a clue. If it did, it would not be giving away its prize assets and brand equity to someone else.

Read More

Life without Steve

 

I don’t want to clutter the web with my addition to the obits for Steve Jobs, who died earlier today. As I sit typing on my MacBook Pro, listening to iTunes in a café in central Paris, using a wifi connection I found using an iPhone app, I hardly need remind anyone of the impact Mr Jobs has had on our lives.

When I left university no one had a computer. I learned computing on an Apple Mac — a giant beige box — because I was apprenticed to a graphic designer. The Mac was then known as an expensive, exclusive professional tool for media and creatives. You couldn’t get one on the high street: reps came. In the Mac-related magazines I bought, Jobs, by then long gone from the company he co-founded, was a dirty word, routinely drubbed as a loose cannon. Friends mocked me for my geeky Mac obsession — which they saw as self-consciously alternative and “creative” — even as they rebooted their PCs after MS Office crashed for the eighth time and their hard disks had been eaten up by worm viruses and adware.

By the time I had saved up to buy a second-hand Mac, Apple as a company was near death — victim of its own arrogance and attachment to vertical integration — and it looked as though it would go the way of Betamax. Then we had the second coming of Jobs, the birth of the affordable, trend-setting iMac, the iPod and the regeneration of a brand that today dominates our daily lives. Gradually, the desirability of Apple products permeated public consciousness and those who had mocked a few years earlier now boasted. I knew Jobs had won when status-conscious corporate types started with the “sent from my iPad” rather than the “sent from my Blackberry”.

Here’s what I want to take from this. The sacking of Jobs from his own company and his subsequent return — not only to rescue it from the brink of banruptcy but also to transform the computing, the entertainment and the communication industries — is a salutory lesson for all companies. Jobs’ firing was a product of corporate power politics and nothing more. Jobs was judged not corporate enough, too fiery, creative and entrepreneurial to play well with others on the board. He was basically kicked out for possessing a challenging personality and a fierce vision. These things can be threatening to those who don’t have them, but without them somewhere in your company, you’re sunk. Apple threw the baby out with the bathwater and paid a terrible price.

Jobs was re-hired for the same reasons he was fired. In the interim he had founded Pixar and learned many lessons. He had matured somewhat but lost none of the vision and, by all accounts, little of the fire. On his return, aside from recreating the brand, Jobs deliberately altered the hierarchical structure of the company to avoid the kind of fiefdom- building and power-play that harm innovation. Executives at Apple now radiate out from the CEO in a circle. Power is spread: the head of the online store, for example, doesn’t get to choose what is stocked, nor the design. Project leaders are appointed based on talent for the particular job at hand and no other reason.

The vertical hierarchy is over. It’s an artificial and outmoded structure, based on nothing but our own vanity. As Facebook has shown, the world is now a network and in a network, collaboration and crowd-sourcing of ideas and information are the routes to success. If companies persist in rewarding individual performance with pecking order status and power over others, they will only encourage zero-sum competition. Positions of power are usually won by the people who most want power, not by the people most able to innovate. Once positions of power are obtained, the executives concerned are no longer coming into work to do their jobs. They are coming in every day to maintain and defend their position. Politics take precedence over productivity. New ideas threaten such power structures and are crushed. We’ve all seen it. No wonder few companies can really innovate.

Innovation requires trust, mutual respect and collaboration. Companies with traditional vertical power structures can and do achieve innovative miracles, by plucking individuals away from their daily routines, creating task forces and suspending power-politics for a limited brief and a limited time. It works, but there is an erroneous consensus that this kind of “peak performance” microcosm cannot be maintained on a daily basis. Yes it can. Jobs did it. You change the structure, you change the reward. You reward innovation, you reward collaboration, you reward challenges to the business model and challenges to the status quo. You reward drive, curiosity and creativity. And — as Google does — you reward these with autonomy, rather than power. Autonomy is all we really need to be satisfied. Power is how we usually get it. But that can change. When we all do this, we may all produce something as majestic and world-changing as Jobs did.

Killing Steve Jobs: the future for Apple

The Economist had a couple of interesting articles last week. The first was yet another speculative piece about how Apple will fare after the departure of its iconic founder and CEO Steve Jobs. This article was notable for attributing to Jobs’ replacement, COO Tim Cook, a couple of things generally credited to Jobs, such as the removal of manufacturing from the balance sheet and the move to outsourcing. That move did much to make Apple financially viable when it was teetering on the brink and the revelation that it was in fact Cook’s idea bodes well for his stewardship of the Apple ship. Apart from that, it was typical fare: speculation and a tone of cautious optimism masking an underlying fretfulness.

People are right to fret about the departure of Jobs. If he was not directly responsible for the inventions, the marketing and design genius and business nous that brought Apple back from the brink, his leadership allowed these talents to come through from below. It was precisely the culture of risk-taking, the willingness to be “foolish”, as he put it, and rethink business models affecting whole industries, that made Apple what it is today. In business we hear an awful lot of that buzz word “sacred cow”. The sacred cow is that idea, structure, product or philosophy that no one dares to touch. Jobs was unafraid to kill these and rewarded that mentality among his team. Vertical integration was destroyed; the notion that Apple was just a computer company was destroyed; the notion that Apple could not be a retailer was destroyed. The notion that the music business or the publishing business could not be changed was destroyed. The notion that technology didn’t need to be elegant, couldn’t be a fashion statement: that was destroyed too. His was a culture in which ideas that challenged not only the status quo of the market, but which challenged the existing Apple ethos, were allowed to bubble up, to the profit of the company. His was a culture of creative disruption that reversed the fortunes of many.

The second Economist article, somewhat ironically, was a treatise railing against the cult of the CEO.

The worst thing Apple could do now is preserve Jobs in formaldehyde. The worst thing it could do is be so worried about living up to that legacy that it becomes risk-averse. If Jobs has done his job well, he has taught the company to be unafraid. Apple under Jobs excelled at killing sacred cows and doing the unthinkable. The next sacred cow Apple needs to kill is Jobs himself.