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How hi-tech is changing the world Part 1: The digital hearth

In this wrap-up from last week’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, The Big Change summarises some of the hi-tech breakthroughs, launches and visions that are already changing or about to change the way we work and live.

Just more than 40 years after it was first staged by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas saw one of the greatest explosions of cutting-edge technologies in its history last week.

Gary Shapiro, CEA president and CEOMore than 2,700 exhibitors, a record 1.85 million square feet of exhibit space across a number of venues, and the industry’s leading executives unveiling their visions, were all symptoms of a bigger trend that is playing itself out across the world.

According to CEA President and CEO Gary Shapiro, in his “State of the Industry” address, consumer electronics industry sales will jump to $171 billion in 2008, a 6.1 percent increase over 2007. He cautioned that, although the industry would continue to outpace projected sales in other industries, continued growth is threatened by protectionist policies. Keep reading →

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Posted in the category: News, Technology, Trends

Yahoo! wants your desktop … and your phone … and Google

Yahoo! co-founder and CEO Jerry Yang this week detailed a vision for delivering the most personally-relevant and indispensable Internet experience to consumers worldwide. Addressing the needs of today’s users at the 2008 International CES Industry Insider Series at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Yang provided the first public demonstration of Yahoo!’s latest mobile offerings and offered a concept demonstration of the future of the desktop experience.

Jerry Yang and David Filo at CESIn his speech, Yang said “from the newest to the most experienced user, Yahoo!’s goal is to be the simple starting point for a much richer and more complex world so you can get more out of it. Whether you’re looking for fun, information, entertainment or social connections, you want to experience everything to the fullest – this is living life with an exclamation point.”

Yang’s presentation and message were clearly a response to the massive strides made by Google over the past two years – much of it ironically coming after a keynote presentation by Google at the same venue two years ago. At CES 2006, Google unveiled a strategy roadmap that electrified the content industry. Since then, Google has implemented its strategy to such dramatic effect, that it dominates search throughout the world, and sets the agenda in areas as diverse as mapping, social networking and desktop customisation.

And Yahoo! wants some of what those guys are having. Keep reading →

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Posted in the category: Strategy, Technology, Trends

Corporate Names and Googlization

Naseem JavedAlthough it may be too late in the game for Google to change its name, other startups certainly can learn from the search company’s name struggles. Here are seven pitfalls to avoid when considering a new name.

By NASEEM JAVED

Ever heard, “Did you google today?” or, “Go try googling, and you will find it?” Watch out for this sort of lingo. To most people it may sound like free advertising for Google , but in reality it could be a nightmare for the corporation. When a company’s name brand lends itself to “verbing” – such as xeroxing, fedexing or rollerblading – a code-red alert strikes the boardroom. Legal SWAT teams swing into action to protect their successful global brand, and an aggressive policing of corporate name usage kicks in.

Of course, everyday use of a corporate name is somewhat of a happy problem, because it likely means the company has acquired significant profits, recognition and success. However, legal teams’ powers are limited. If a company name becomes a verb or a popular dictionary word, it enters the public domain and the company loses its intellectual property rights – witness Kleenex, Fridge and Hoover, to name just a few. Then there are only a few things the company can do.

For example, lawyers can issue fancy memos designed to force people and media to always refer to a brand name as a registered trademark of the company. They also can ask advertising and branding agencies to avoid making creative uses and plays on the corporate name when it is used in commercials or general promotional copies of ads. However, this is a long and a painful process.

Dodging the Problem

Fortunately, studies have shown that certain alpha-structures do not easily lend themselves to verbing. Despite their fame and popularity in daily language, these types of names survive over time and remain powerful corporate brands while enjoying a proprietary status. Some examples are Yahoo, Apple, Netscape, Telus, Microsoft, Sony, Rolex and Nintendo. Have you ever heard, “I Rolexed and realized I was late?” or, “Leave me alone, I’m Appling”? How about, “I just Nintendozed off,” or, “I was depressed and very Microsoftish”?

As a result, finding great brand names has become a very scientific process and is no longer a creative exercise. Under the proper Laws of Naming, all issues are explored in advance so that a brand name will be engineered for durability. The days of accidental naming are over.

Google has a big battle ahead of it, and the fights will take place on two fronts. Firstly, the company still has the best search engine to date and as a result acquired too much global attention too quickly. Secondly, as a borrowed word from the mathematical section of the English dictionary, the word “google” does have an alpha-structure that easily lends itself to cute verbalization. Right now, Sir Isaac Newton is simply googlified.

Change Now or Later

Although it may be too late in the game for Google to change its name, other startups certainly can learn from the search company’s name struggles. Here are seven pitfalls to avoid when considering a new name.

One: The name is similar or identical to thousands of others.

When a corporate name is heavily diluted and shared by hundreds or thousands of others in all kinds of businesses, it simply gets lost in the crowd. Also, when a name is a borrowed word from a dictionary, making it a part of everyday lingo, it never achieves any distinction. Despite extraordinary spending on advertising and promotion, it may simply die from exhaustion. Open any old business magazine, and it will unfold like a cemetery of dead corporate names.

Two: The name is too old to convey today’s dynamics.

Sometimes a name crawls out of history, reflecting the great human toil of the founding fathers, but is somehow not suitable for present-day, technology-savvy culture.

Three: The spelling of the name requires a relatively high IQ.

A large majority of corporate names are spelled creatively to fit a logo or avoid a serious trademark problem. In such situations, both common sense and the science of corporate nomenclature are abused. Twisted spelling ensures obscurity. The human mind continually rejects the corruption of a familiar word and refuses to remember specific alpha structures. After all, if a name can be spelled in four different ways, the company will only end up with 25 percent of Web site hits and profits.

Four: Money must be spent to explain the origin of the name.

If a name does not simply relate to the business and requires constant explanation of its obscure, yet cute, origin, it becomes standard practice for advertising agencies to educate the universe about this dysfunctionality. The poor consumer simply suffers. Corporations and ad agencies thrive on receiving awards for their creative advertising gimmicks, while customers simply shut off.

Five: The corporation does not own a trademark on its name or have an identical dot-com domain.

When a corporation does not legally own a corporate name, what’s the point of the exercise? Why bother at all? Today, a large majority of corporate names are not trademarkable globally, and most do not have an identical dot-com domain.

Six: The name is embarrassing in certain countries.

Globalization is a fact of life. A name must work like a marketing weapon not only in its own country, but also around the globe. There should be no need to hide under the desk because the name is embarrassing or profane in a foreign language. However, a large majority of names today do not work efficiently on the international scene; in fact, they cause ongoing stress when it comes to gaining worldwide recognition.

Seven: The name is too long, difficult, confusing, complicated or boring.

When a name is too long, it often gets initialized. This unwanted process changes the entire meaning of the name and can result in it being listed in strange categories. Meanwhile, when a name is too difficult, confusing or boring, it becomes a different animal to different people. Strange name combinations, often due to M&A, end up telling more than one story and cause confusion in the marketplace. Odd terminologies or alphanumeric structures in a name, such as using upper- or lower-case letters in nontraditional places or including dashes, slashes and other dingbat characters, will only ensure the name’s self-destruction.

  • Naseem Javed is a world-renowned authority on corporate nomenclature, and author of two major books. He has offices in New York and Toronto. He can be reached by e-mail.

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Posted in the category: Insight

Swallowing Google whole

Just as in the wonderful Douglas Adams tale The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, where the ultimate restaurant is a symbol for all that is excessive on earth, the Internet can also be viewed in culinary terms in order to explain the excesses of both the hype that bedevilled it and the counter-hype that followed. This, in turn, can help us understand why the listing of Google on the Nasdaq stock exchange is causing such heated reaction from both its detractors and its cheerleaders.First, imagine that the Internet and all the old, new and convergent technologies revolving around it, powering it and being powered by it, make up a vast international restaurant.

There were those who refused to eat there, believing it to be too fashionable, or threatened by the apparent sophistication of the place, the menu and the waiters, and afraid they would not know how to conduct themselves there.

There were those who refused to eat anywhere else, believing this to be the only way dining could now occur, seduced as they were by the apparent glamour of it all.

There were those, whom we may call investors, who rushed to eat there as often as they could, simply because they heard that everyone else was being seen there. And, of course, there were those who saw it as a useful venue to add names to those already on their lists.

When everyone realised that some of the more high-calory items on the menu offered up to investors in the Internet were overpriced and offered only scraps on diners’ plates, the doomsayser feasted on what they imagined was the carcass of the new economy.

Analysts from both the old and new ecomomy sides of the fence all suddenly agreed that the old rules did apply after all, but in their haste to repair the damage they had caused when buying into the belief that the old rules had been thrown out, they dismissed the Internet as a passing fad.

And they got it wrong yet again.

What the doomsayers were doing was judging the restaurant by what they found in the garbage cans outside the back entrance. That’s where the leftovers from the old menu had been dumped along with the carcasses that had served their purpose.

But you don’t taste the leftovers to determine the value of a restaurant. You don’t stand outside the restaurant and look through the windows to count how many people may be suffering from indigestion inside. You have to go into the restaurant, you have to speak to the diners, and even take a walk through the kitchen.

At the tables you discover that those who have selected their dishes wisely are having a satisfying meal; those who dine at a range of restaurants, including this one, are quite happy with the service, the fare and the price; and even the kitchen, though it may have messy corners and workers who underperform and pots that have boiled over or just won’t come to the boil, serves its purpose as long as the demands made on it are not too great.

So it is with the Internet. It is a superb tool to include in general corporate strategy. It does not always perform as expected, and those who have too great expectations of it come away hungry or angry. Those who ignore it totally have enough other tools in their kit to keep their businesses going, although they may be missing out on a rewarding experience. Those who choose only the Internet as their arena of business more often than not come away with severe financial indigestion.

If you swallow the Google promise whole, of course you stand a high chance of suffering heartburn. If you reject its promise, of course you risk losing out on a great financial repast. Google may be a great business, and an even greater brand, but it is not the final word in business. The hyped-up but discredited Internet evangelists who see Google as the salvation of their burned reputations need to be put on sedatives before they start talking up the whole menu based on one dish.

But the same applies to the sour bankers who dismiss Google’s investor-friendly approach. The search engine company wants to spreading the potential rewards and bypass a number of mechanisms created by the financial institutions to boost their fees from IPOs. But there is no rule that says the banking business must come before the people business.

And if Google fails the taste test? Sure, it will damage Internet stocks, but it does not alter the significance of global connectivity by one byte.

The etiquette at this restaurant is not that you eat only here or not at all, but rather that you decide how it can fit into your diet, choose carefully and then eat sensibly. If it is not the right place for you, you make that decision based on your needs and what is happening in the restaurant. You certainly do not forage about in the garbage out back to have your prejudices proven.

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Posted in the category: Insight

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The Big Change is a business strategy blog and newsletter published by Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx, a leading technology research organisation based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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