It’s time to give Labor Day a rest. Let’s rename it—rebrand it, if you will.
Let’s call it Irony Day, or maybe Opposite Day — a holiday in honor of what it isn’t. Taking a day off to celebrate work… you gotta love that. Plus, hasn’t a day originally set aside to honor unions become an anachronism, even disingenuous?
Irony has a shelf life, so each year our reimagined festival could put a different subject to on its pedestal: the first Monday of next September, say, could celebrate war and we’d call it Peace Day. Then the following Sept. 1 could be devoted to gluttony, which we’d naturally dub Diet Day.
And Communications Day could celebrate our obsession with ever-new ways to connect through technology — not so much with each other than to our devices.
The possibilities are endless.
Hyper communication is not necessarily effective communication. Sure, we increasingly have access to almost any person or piece of information at any time. But too often we just talk or Tweet past each other, sticking to scripts without really listening. If nothing else, the modern age is a boon for irony.
The ongoing strife in Washington brings this to mind, naturally. But this is an everyday problem, for just about all the frustrations you and I are likely to have are related to communications, and technology has done little to free us from the drudgery of ourselves.
It's understandable that MySpace would want to regain its groove by hooking up with a hipster like Justin Timberlake, one of its new owners. But what does the singer-actor see in this tone-deaf cougar of social networking?An ad-placement outfit called Specific Media brought in the tastemaker as an investor in its $35 million purchase, or roughly a dollar for each of MySpace's 34.9 million U.S. users (per comScore). That’s only 6 percent of what seller Rupert Murdoch paid just six years ago for the service, which pitches music and other media to users based on their profiles.Is it a bargain or a value trap? What can the new bosses do better? Did Timberlake's turn as former Facebook president Sean Parker in the movie The Social Network give him some special insight for his new true-life role?Those looking to turn around a business (or a career or even a life) must first honestly assess their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (good old SWOT analysis). Beyond name recognition (now enhanced with the Timberlake association), MySpace has an immense trove of marketable user information and it's in the hot-hot-hot consumer social media sector. In the negative column, its flat-footedness has left it isolated, losing money, and swamped by numerous rivals that are well capitalized, popular, innovative, and determined. Hmm...Timberlake, with more than 5 million Twitter followers, has said he wants a place for artists to connect with fans, but MySpace has tried to do that for years without much effect; hence, Twitter. No, the big idea from Specific Media seems to be encouraging users to share favorite ads with their friends. OMG: I can’t wait to share my favorite product pitches with everyone I know!! Wait, what? Is that what passes for social exchange and enrichment? Doing the heavy lifting of advertisers?Why did Myspace ever let this happen? It was way, way ahead of Facebook just a few years ago. Now it only has some 225 employees, down from 1,400 a couple years ago, and will lose $165 million for the fiscal year ending today, June 30. Why did it fail to recruit or retain top tech talent? Why did it fail to open up its service to outside developers (Farmville, anyone?) Why did it let youngsters like Groupon and Zynga zoom ahead to valuations in the tens of billions? And why did Rupert Murdoch dye his hair orange?What MySpace failed to do, primarily, was product development, according to the real Sean Parker. "It was basically this junk heap of bad design that persisted for many, many years," the Napster co-founder told Jimmy Fallon at the NExTWORK Conference in New York. [http://tcrn.ch/iGNSOr] "There was a period of time where if they had just copied Facebook rapidly, they would have been Facebook. They were giant, the network effects, the scale effects were enormous.”Why do any of us lose our way? A variety of factors from arrogance to misplaced trust can lead us astray, but it's almost always pride that prevents us from getting back on track. All you can do is accept the new reality on the ground, dust yourself off, and keep going (hopefully a little the wiser). Parker, a bankrupt hacker not that long ago, did; look where it got him.And give News Corp. some credit. It’s fairly nimble for a leviathan. It rapidly bulked up on Internet properties and then shed them when fleeter rivals overtook them. (It also too-quickly flipped the Dodgers to the McCourts, but that’s another tale of woe.) The corporation is now doing the smart thing of developing digital versions of its real product: its television and newspaper brands.Funny how media’s other irascible octogenarian, Sumner Redstone, didn’t step up to buy MySpace once it fell into the clearance pile. After all, the Viacom chieftain canned well-regarded Tom Freston for the sin of letting MySpace slip through his fingers and into the hands of nemesis Murdoch for a mere $580 million in 2005. (Businessweek shortly afterward referred to it as one of the savviest acquisitions ever.) Poor Freston. He didn’t want to overpay.There will always be plenty who do (viz, the $5 billion later paid for Dow Jones, once again by Murdoch). Look no farther than current valuations for new media properties. Living Social is eying a $1 billion IPO; its larger rival Groupon dreams of $20 billion. Facebook, MySpace’s vanquisher, has gone from $30 to $50 to $80 to $100 billion in valuation estimates (or is it a trillion this week?). LinkedIn’s recent public offering made it the most expensive stock in the market, with a price to earnings ratio of more than 1,000.By absorbing MySpace, Specific Media is probably laying the groundwork for its own public offering. “We have one of the most creative people driving the creative strategy,” Tim Vanderhook, Specific Media’s CEO said of Timberlake. [http://on.wsj.com/isHi2b] “That’s a huge difference than what was done in the past.”
Once we called upon Zeus and Horus. Then we created machines to serve and rule us. Now we cast our eyes anew to the heavens to conjure up what we want. What fresh magic is this? It's cloud computing, shifting software from your office, desktop, lap, and pocket to remote data centers that you access through the Internet. Setting you free in one sense, yet also making it more difficult to escape the reach and watch of technology.Discs are as dead as the Victrola: increasingly you'll go to the cloud to download apps for your limited purpose, stream a movie, or look for extra server space.It may sound a little nebulous, but one thing is clear: it’s clearly getting more overcast all the time. The worldwide market for cloud services is likely to grow to $148.8 billion in 2014 from $58.6 billion in 2009, according to Gartner Research. “The last time companies saw this big a shift in computing was when PCs entered the workplace over 20 years ago,” says Ben Pring, a senior research analyst at Gartner. In the next five years, companies will spend $112 billion cumulatively on software delivered over the Internet (a.k.a., “software as a service”) and comparable services, according to Gartner. By November 2009, about 100,000 companies used cloud applications, according to Bruce Richardson, former chief research officer at AMR Research. In a May 2008 report, Merrill Lynch estimated that 12 percent of the worldwide software market would go to the cloud by 2013 and be worth $95 billion. [Source: BusinessWeek, http://bit.ly/fUudod. Check out the article for good examples of companies saving money with the cloud.] Cloud computing isn’t new -- Gmail, Flicker, Picasa, Dropbox, and streaming media are all cloud-based services. But storms are brewing as big players like Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Salesforce compete for your business. Security is an issue -- personal data stored in the cloud is under constant hacker assault, although security experts say having remote tech experts guarding their servers (and your information) is safer than you doing the job yourself. Data ownership could also be a problem if the owner of the server you’re using changes the rules and decides it can sell your uploaded photos, for instance. Whatever happens, look for your PC and its operating system to be gone with the wind before long. Gone will be the hassles that long marked our days: installing software, protecting it from viruses, remembering where you stored information, losing everything when you forgot to back it up. You’ll continue to need access to electrical power (and long battery life), but much of what you thought you knew about computing is changing.