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June 20th, 2008 by john andrews

Research News: Old Boys Clubs breed more Old Boys

I know this is outside the realm of Internet marketing, but my background is scientific research and I left that world for obvious reasons…that were not very obvious to everyone else at the time. Chalk this new research out of the SPIE and Academy of Arts and Sciences as one for the “duh” column, representing more stuff we knew but perhaps no one would care about until it was formally documented:

Programs and policies that support early-career investigators and high-risk, high-reward research are needed in order to preserve U.S. leadership in science and technology, contends a report released yesterday by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

We had to wait until the symptoms had become a disease, before acknowledging that the Old Boys Club does nothing but breed more Old Boys, at the expense of innovation and competitiveness:

As an example, the report notes that the average age for first-time recipients of primary research grants from the National Institutes of Health is 42.4 and rising, and that the success rate for first-time grant applicants has declined from 86 percent in 1980 to 28 percent in 2007.

That’s your NIH, the primary funding mechanism for research and innovation in medicine and the sciences related to our well being. In other words, we’re not giving research grants to researchers until they reach their forties. As someone who left that world in my thirties, I can tell you two things: 1) the ones who stayed until they were in their forties to get their first funded research are not the sharpest shovels in the shed, and 2) that’s like saying you can’t do an Internet start-up until you’re at least 30. Yes, it is.

Think about it. How much innovation would we have if we refused to allow anyone under 30 to try anything new with this Internet thing? On the flip side, for those already over 30, with kids and such… how’d you like to take a small grant now and try and turn it into a successful innovative startup? The last time I had lunch in Silicon Valley, I heard someone say about the idea of working for a startup at age 40: “you don’t skate on thin ice with babies“. What do you think our funded researchers are doing when they get funded in their forties, with babies?

Disclaimer: I have great respect for many, many NIH researchers who have never received funding, or not yet received funding. I also have great respect for many who first get funded outside the NIH system, via companies and private foundations. Quite a few are good friends of mine. I don’t understand why they stay and shine shoes in the academic system, but that is their choice and I do respect them as individuals. However, across the board, what’s left looking for funding after 15 years of suffering the system of academia is not the best and brightest this nation has to offer. Those still trying should keep trying as long as their hearts believe. But the rest of us should try and effect some change.

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June 16th, 2008 by john andrews

Airline Domains: TAM Airlines doesn’t own TAM.com

TAM Airlines (TAM) is the largest airline in Brazil, and has been expanding operations. They used to compete with Varig in Brazil, which owns Varig.com as well as Varig.com.br, the Brazilian equivalent, and GOL. Airline web sites are notoriously badly configured for SEO, and these are not exceptions, but TAM airlines doesn’t even own TAM.com. For a major airlines, this is very unusual.

American Airlines naturally owns AA.com. British Airways secured BA.com. Japan Airlines, known as JAL, naturally owns JAL.com. They also own the necessary variants of their names, such as AmericanAirlines.com, and BritishAirways.com.

Looking further, Dutch airline KLM of course secured KLM.com, their natural domain. Northwest Airlines can be found at NWA.com. Even South American airline Lan Airline has secured lan.com for itself, which must have been difficult given the generic value of LAN in the computer field (local area network — the domain surely had very high value). Truth is, if you are competing in the global travel space, you simply MUST secure your brand as the customer perceives it. Most airlines know that.

The Polish airline LOT Polish Airlines owns LOT.com, another strong generic domain that had high value to others. LOT knows the value of that domain as a brand. Delta Airlines is found at Delta.com, despite hundreds of non-airline businesses operating under strong Delta trademarks. Continental Airlines owns Continental.com, even though there are very major companies in other industries also operating with the name “Continental”. Why do you think Continental Airlines owns it? If you are a serious airline, you simply must own your name, no? If you visit a page of the Airline Blog that covers Brazil, you will see numerous contextual ads from travel agents and travel companies putting the TAM brand right in front of the consumers. Do they know the value of the TAM brand more than TAM airlines?

So TAM Airlines doesn’t know this? Or maybe doesn’t care. I would find it very hard to believe that the IT systems company near “Mount Tam” in California, the current registrant of TAM.com, would hold out for a higher price than a major International Airline could afford for an exact-match, 3 letter dot com. I don’t know the owner of TAM.com so I can’t be sure, but seriously… if Pizza.com went for just over 2 million, how could a 3 letter exact match for a significant International airline be too expensive to buy out from a small IT company? The online Pizza business last year was billion$ strong, and expected to double in the near term. Anyone could launch into that revenue stream immediately with a 2+ million dollar purchase of THE generic domain in that market. That’s less than the cost of producing a SuperBowl ad, and there was no trademark at risk. For TAM Airlines, with TAM.com an exact trademark match as well as a consumer brand match across languages, it must be worth buying, no?

United Airlines owns United.com, as we would expect although honestly I would not be surprised to learn someone else owned United.com since it is so generic and such a common trade moniker. Yet, United Airlines owns it. Smart move, or simply an essential necessity? Southwest Airlines owns Southwest.com. Swiss International Airlines owns Swiss.com. Spain’s Iberia Airlines owns Iberia.com. I personally know 2 restaurants in high-tech neighborhoods with that name. There’s no way the name wasn’t an early target for many companies. The United Arab Emirates airline “Emirates” is, of course, at Emirates.com. Australia’s Qantas Airways owns Qantas.com, of course, right? They were also smart enough to get Quantas.com, which is how I know them because my language doesn’t like Q’s without associated U’s.

Like I said I don’t know the TAM Airlines people nor the TAM.com registrant, but I think this expose of TAM airline’s sloppiness is a good reminder that companies should research their brand situations today, rather than tomorrow. I’m betting a handful of domain investors will call the current owner of TAM.com now, looking to bet that it has unrealized potential.

We have a joke here in our offices about domain name valuation. When a client says “We don’t have our brand as a domain name, but we want to try to acquire it. How much is it worth?” the only answer we can give is “We can’t say for sure, but it’s worth more today than it was yesterday“.

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June 6th, 2008 by john andrews

Starbucks Losing Key Customers Over WiFi Glitches

I’ve been a regular Starbucks customer for many years. I spend about $250 per month at my local Starbucks, separate from WiFi access fees. I pay $7 for pre-made, cold sandwiches so I don’t have to leave my table. I visit Starbucks nearly daily when on travel, and I even buy stuff from their over priced gift racks. I have been a t-mobile unlimited subscriber for several years, just for the Starbucks connectivity. I have a collection of Starbucks cash cards, and I always maintain a balance. For years I was on the auto-renew program. I give pre-loaded Starbucks cards as gifts, and I reward tech workers with $100 Starbucks cards on a regular basis, often over the web. But this past week I have tasted the coffee and WiFi at 7 other coffee shops, because lately, Starbucks WiFi sucks.

I currently have both t-mobile and ATT unlimited WiFi subscriptions, so I can stay connected at Starbucks. And that’s not good enough. It still goes down, drops me, or refuses to grant me access. It is slow, it chokes on non-www URLs, and otherwise just plain sucks. If this is Starbuck’s version of the evolution of the Starbucks WiFi experience, I have news for Starbucks: your coffe is not as good as 5 of the 7 other places I tried this week. And neither is your WiFi.  In the 3 years I’ve had a smart phone, I’ve been technically able to tether the notebook and avoid the need for WiFi altogether. But I haven’t bothered.. until this past week.
If this goes on much longer, I hope t-mobile is able to sure Starbucks for the mis-management of the network. It appears to have been outsourced to SBC, although I have no interest in digging for those details. Whether I try to connect to the t-mobile or ATT account doesn’t matter.. I still get crappy service from the access point. Sometimes I connect to the t-mobile SSID and get an ATT sign on page, and sometimes I see a srong t-mobile signal and a weak ATT signal, so I know it’s bad management.

I used to think I needed my coffee, but it’s clear as day now: I need my WiFi connectivity, and I am willing to pay someone to maintain a comfortable community-oriented space for using it. Starbucks was on the right track putting a meeting place in every town with a big green sign. Read my lips: it’s college study hall for the post-graduate technical workers. It’s comfortable, familiar, and conducive to thought. No doubt Starbucks needed to put in free WiFi, but it’s a big mistake to muck up the reliable connectivity like this. Fire that director and try again… quick. If I end up discovering an alternative location, I’ll be happy to bring in my coffee or send out for it, but I won’t be willing to pay the Starbucks prices any more. There are quite simply better options.

Update: A few hours after I posted this, t-mobile files suit against Starbucks. Clue to Startbucks: don’t use your customers as pawns in your corporate games.

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