General Motors, The Feds.

In the early days of this blog, I wrote a lot about political issues. Frankly, when I was getting going in the blogging world almost five years ago, it was about the only thing I knew to do. Political blogging was huge and it was about the only kind of blogging that registered on the radar. Over the years, I’ve found my niche and it is clearly what you find here today. However, today I need to address a huge issue facing the American public, small businesses and every aspect of the American fabric of society. I must get this off my chest, because it matters to business in a way that nothing else in our lifetimes has.

As time goes on, I have gone from extreme right wing conservative to moderately progressive and still trend right on some issues. It doesn’t really matter though, because the principles that I believe in are firmly based in a sense of pragmatic, if not downright cruel, reality.

Over the weekend, the Obama administration did something completely unthinkable that will have a longterm negative impact on the enterprising and innovative American markets. The federal government made board level decisions on behalf of a publicly-traded company, General Motors.

It is clear to any objective mind that the General Motors (and to a lesser extent Chrysler) proposal for restructuring in the face of bankruptcy, and to secure taxpayer funds, was less than adequate. In fact, some rumors from within the company suggest that GM essentially sat on their hands as they approached the deadline originally agreed to with the Bush administration. Clearly, this is less than acceptable. Clearly, this mindset believes that they truly are “too big to fail” and that the feds would simply swoop in and rescue them yet again.

Clearly, clearly, clearly. Yet… none of this is clear.

The Obama Administration suggested a change to threatened the GM board of directors that they had to remove CEO Rick Wagoner.

I understand why. If Wagoner was too sluggish in his behavior, or “sat on his hands pending an Obama bailout” then he certainly needed to be removed. All evidence points to only positive results from his removal. However, the federal government directly intervened in the private sector governance of a publicly traded company.

This outrage is enough, but somewhat legal if they own a portion of the stock. IT’s expected that, as shareholders, the government would want a say.

However, here is the part that no one is talking about. In essence, General Motors has become a Wholly Owned Subsidiary of the United States of America. While your Orwellian alarms go off, let me rub salt in the wound. The SEC is supposed to regulate GM. That’s right, the Securities and Exchange Commission, a fully functioning independent agency of the U.S., is now tasked with regulating itself.

Can anything good come from this? I think not.

In an ideal world, one filled with unicorns and gryffons and other mythical creatures, the SEC executes their funtion without privilege or bias. In an ideal world, GM adheres to the same regulations put in place by the SEC that governs the market. In an ideal world. Since when has self-policing ever worked? Especially with the SEC.

To make matters worse, in an effort to stimulate company growth and remove government ownership of the company (yeah, right), the Feds are likely to make moves that will help GM, but may undercut the market. For instance, cutting the MSRP of automobiles by a certain percentage to stimulate sales. These kinds of actions are generally regulated by the Justice Department (as well as the Commerce Department) and fall under unfair trading practices.

At what point is a U.S. owned company able to compete on the open market without undercutting market tensions and forces, and at which point does the “adherence to market principles” mean the destruction of the company?

My feeling is that the longterm ramifications of bailing out and direct government intervention into the governance and conduct of a company is a dangerous precedent. Beyond a dangerous precedent, I believe it will only exacerbate the complete destructive collapse of the economy.

There will be some who call me crazy. Who call me a sensationalist. That tell me I am too conspiratorial. Remember this post when my predictions actually come to fruition. Within six months.

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The iPhone still is not a Business Phone

Since the launch of the original iPhone almost two years ago, it has been the position of this journalist, that the iPhone is not equipped, nor designed to be a business class phone. Although Apple has done a lot to address the concerns raised by many around the time of the original launch, such as third party apps and 3G speed, there are still inherent (and potentially unsolvable) problems with the phone.

Without a doubt, the iPhone is the sexiest phone on the market. Even with Research in Motion’s Blackberry Storm launch and a variety of other touch screen devices from other manufacturers, nothing meets, much less exceeds, the beauty and elegance of an iPhone. With it’s intuitive scrolling interface, the presence of a real web browser and hours of entertainment value via games from the app store, iPod capability and social networking capability, a la Livingston Communication’s Mobile Manifesto, there is no doubt that the iPhone is the device of choice for the long tail of consumers.

However, the finger typing (as opposed to tactile QWERTY keyboard of other devices, such as Blackberrys) poses a significant architectural barrier to business adoption. From a business standpoint, a mobile device is meant for utility. Email, productivity, and collaboration. That’s what we in business need from our phones, no? We need to be able to ensure connectivity to mission critical offices, and projects.

In Washington, we are a working class. We may not be the working class, as bandied around in political campaigns, but we are a town driven by long hours, massive public-interest footprints and a very east-coast “on the go” mentality. In Washington, Verizon Wireless rules the roost because of solid coverage and underground Metro coverage (granted, other carriers will have expanded coverage by the end of the year and full access by 2012).

During the Inauguration, while those in proximity to me (on the National Mall) lost coverage for all or a portion of the ceremony while using the Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile networks, Verizon Wireless troopered on without so much as a hiccup.

So, let’s review the iPhone. The iPhone is locked into the AT&T network (for now). Therefore, large collections of iPhones all throttle the same towers as opposed to dispersion of traffic across a multitude of networks. FAIL.

The iPhone presents significant usability and utility challenges to the “working” American due to the finger touch system. Additionally, the lack of viable Exchange integration (sorry, the iPhone OS 2.0 upgrade providing ActiveSync is junk), and lack of Group Policy mechanisms that prevent IT Administrators from effectively tying into a Enterprise Active Directory structure and enforcing group policy and security across an infrastructure in the same way they can for Windows Mobile or Blackberry devices, will continue to prevent the iPhone from seeing widespread adoption in enterprise environments.

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Advocacy for Professional Consultants

A funny thing happened on the way to an SEO Mecca. The New York Times decided to fold all of the content of the International Herald Tribune into NYTimes.com as an SEO play. Gawker has the full backstory.

If you don’t feel like reading, the New York Times has been asking Google for enhanced SERPs (Search Engine Result Placements) for some time. As Google has refused special treatment, the Times decided to take the step of combining it’s moderately-strong iht.com property into the main NYTimes.com. On paper, this makes sense if they were playing to combine the strengths of both properties to enhance the value of the content in the search engines.

Many people do this, even on small scales. Through special, yet simple, configurations, systems admins can redirect one page to another and pass a code that instructs search engines to find the old content at the new location permanently or temporarily, depending on the use case and purpose. It’s a bit tricky, but also not rocket science. It happens all the time, and in fact, also happens on this site where I’ve deprecated old content pages in favor of new ones.

These are basic steps that are taken, and required, to retain the search engine value of a site. Unfortunately, as the Gawker story points out, the Times botched the process and is redirecting all of the IHT content to a single landing page, nullifying the value of all their content. (Though the argument could be made that if Times engineers jumped on the mistake quick enough, they could salvage the damage before Google updated all the results.

Assuming, however, that that is not the case, the decision to handle this in-house instead of contracting a professional SEO firm or consultant, highlights another bad business practice that is far too common – especially when a company is cash strapped, as the Times is.

Hiring an outside firm or individual to handle this stuff meticulously would have easily cost the Times a number in the five figure range. Easily. Maybe six figures, depending on the firm and the scope and complexity of the problem. Undoubtedly, this is a lot of money and one of the reasons that people try to do jobs on their own.

However, the flip side of this particular problem, understanding of course that I don’t have all the details, is that the advertising revenue being lost as a result of the search traffic that will not come to the site for a long time from Google, is unquestionably going to exceed the money they would have lost to hire a firm or reputed SEO professional.

In the advertising world, though in my opinion it is a flawed concept long-term, the most lucrative advertising for a content property like the New York Times, is CPM. CPM, is the amount of money that an advertiser is willing to pay for every thousand impression, or page view.

According to Compete.com (which is tragically wrong most of the time), the International Herald Tribune website gets approximately 4.6M page views monthly (2M unique visitors * 2.3 average pages per visit). At an extremely conservative rate of $20 CPM, the Times would lose $90,000 a month in advertising revenue. For $50,000, they could have contracted a firm to handle the SEO implications of the IHT switch.

I admit that I’m pulling numbers out of my ass here. Without a doubt, my numbers are way off any semblance of reality. The dollar figures per CPM are higher. The traffic is higher. But, my point is made.

Companies looking to play in the web space, when it’s not their primary business, should utilize contractors as much as possible. The downside of using contractors is the lack of “buy in” to the company mission, however consultants are usually more efficient and professional about getting a job done right the first time (they have other clients) than many in-house teams can do. In a down economy, as well, it’s critically important that companies are able to stay focused on their core missions.

Bonus: Despite the fact that I am making up numbers, the principle behind consultancy remains. But to lighten things up, I’ll toss the naysayers a bone.

Dilbert.com

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