Archive for December, 2008

Season’s Greetings!

Sunday, December 28th, 2008

Talk of Many Things wishes its readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

At the start of this year, I’d promised to make it easy for readers to leave behind comments on this blog. Thanks to some innovative technology from reCAPTCHA, I’ve been able to fulfill my promise.

Like other methods, reCAPTCHA uses a graphical image to ensure that “you’re human” – and not a computerized bot which usually only leaves behind spam. But unlike any others I’ve come across, reCAPTCHA serves another purpose: it helps scan old books that were published before the onset of the digital era. I’m also impressed with the smartness of its implementation logic.

While I’ve used reCAPTCHA for this WordPress-based blog, you can put reCAPTCHA on any website. reCAPTCHA also promises easy-to-use code for common web programming languages such as PHP. Interested? Visit reCAPTCHA for more details.

Okay, now that I’ve made it easy for you to leave comments on this blog, let me leave you with something to comment upon:

Through this year, I’ve been asked many times (okay, a few times, happy?) to give my take on the credit crunch and financial meltdown. There have been countless articles written on this subject, so I won’t start off on another one. Instead, I’ll simply refer to one of my Quotable Quotes. 

Q: If you are so smart, why are you not rich? – Wall Street Bond Trader to a Harvard Professor
A: If you are so rich, why are you not smart? – Reply from the Harvard Professor
 

But I’m not sure who is smart and who is rich, so you may want to comment?

Thank you for your interest in Talk of Many Things and look forward to staying in touch in 2009.

Seller-Side Auctions for eBay-Weary Buyers

Sunday, December 14th, 2008

Like me, if you’re one of those who has bid on eBay (or other online auction websites) and gotten frustrated with one of those “You’re outbid” emails five minutes later, then seller-side auctions might be a refreshing change.

In the first (and only) example I’ve come across of seller-side auctions, MoneyAisle promises, “sellers bid, buyers win”.

MoneyAisle helps investors get the best rate for their savings by letting banks bid in a live auction. Currently available in the United States, MoneyAisle lets people with spare cash buy Bank Certificate of Deposits (CDs) or High-Yield Savings Accounts in real-time by simply specifying how much money they wish to invest and for what period. MoneyAisle runs a realtime auction among its participating banks and, at the end of the auction lasting 1-2 minutes, you get the name of the bank offering the highest interest rate. MoneyAisle promises that a representative from the winning bank will soon contact investors to guide them with opening their accounts. If the winning bank supports online account opening, MoneyAisle gives investors the option to go directly to the bank’s online platform and complete their purchase.

When I took a test drive on MoneyAisle, I could actually watch the auction live, see the APY rates increasing and the number of banks decreasing from one round of bidding to the other, until finally the auction came to an end with only one bank left in the fray.

 

For eBay-weary buyers, MoneyAisle is definitely a great experience!

Having said that, I wasn’t too sure about the real-time seller-side auction paradigm shift promised by MoneyAisle. After all, there a number of price comparison sites like moneysupermarket.com, which.co.uk and Stiftung Warentest which publish comparative rates from different product and service providers at periodic intervals. How was one to know that banks were really bidding live on MoneyAisle for my business to offer dynamic rates, which is what made MoneyAisle truly different from conventional price comparison sites that contain “often out-of-date rates from a database” (to quote MoneyAisle)? After all, pictures showing bidding rounds in MoneyAisle could easily be misconstrued as visual representations of MoneyAisle trawling through static rates published by banks?

I noticed that MoneyAisle’s FAQ section does address this point. To the question, “Are the auctions live?”, MoneyAisle provides an unequivocal answer, “Yes, absolutely.”

But, still not fully convinced, just as I know my readers won’t be, I was keen on comparing MoneyAisle’s winning APY rates with those published in comparison websites. Since the aforementioned comparison sites were restricted to UK and Germany, they were of no use in this regard since MoneyAisle only addressed the US market. Luckily for me, I came across a couple of US-focused financial comparison sites like Filife.com and bankaholic.com. I was able to find what I was looking for quite easily in bankaholic.com.

I entered the same amount and period for Bank CD in bankaholic and, bingo, I was able to spot the same bank E-LOAN that had won the MoneyAisle live auction with a winning API of 4.36%. In bankaholic, E-LOAN’s rate was lower (4.27%). To me, this was proof enough that MoneyAisle was able to access more dynamic (and slightly higher) rates compared to those published in comparison sites based on relatively static data.

 

However, at the same time, I couldn’t escape noticing a higher API of 4.43% offered by some other bank (Flagstar) on bankaholic. Did this suggest that MoneyAisle’s winning rates might not be the highest in the market?

Yes, that’s indeed the case.

As MoneyAisle admits in its website, “there are several reasons that a specific rate may not appear as the winning rate [on MoneyAisle]. Some banks will choose to only participate in auctions for customers in certain geographic regions, sometimes that particular bank might not be part of our network. MoneyAisle is a new service and we fully expect this to improve over time as we add more banks to our growing network”.

Obviously, MoneyAisle’s seller-side live auctions are a great boon for buyers compared to eBay and other conventional buyer-side auction websites. If you have money and want instant gratification, MoneyAisle is the place to go. For, unlike eBay, you don’t have to keep bidding and increasing your bids to win at MoneyAisle. Besides, you don’t have to wait for the 3-7 days that it takes for a typical auction to conclude on eBay.

With MoneyAisle, it’s sellers who keep bidding themselves up until there’s only one seller left. What’s more, a typical auction lasts only a couple of minutes on MoneyAisle, so instant gratification is guaranteed.

What does future hold in store for seller-side auctions? If you scratch the surface, how different are they compared to online price discovery that is commonplace in perishable product categories like air tickets, hotel rooms, car rentals, and so on? Personally I feel that, even if they aren’t very different, there is still a vast market of products beyond Bank CDs and High-Yield Savings Accounts (such as those you’d find on typical comparison sites like moneysupermarket.com) where seller-side auctions can enhance the online shopping experience for buyers. 

Jet Lag Pills for Business Class

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

Writing about The True Worth of Business Class Travel about a year ago, I’d sort of concluded that extra convenience was the only tangible differentiator that airlines could be using to justify business class fares that are typically 3x-5x of economy. Since flying time was the same, I’d noted that business and economy class flyers suffered the same level of jet lag. If only airlines could cook up an anti-jetlag potion exclusively for their business class passengers, I’d mused, that would be enough for them to conclusively tilt the cost-benefit balance in favor of business class.  

Now, a year later, looks like an American pharma firm called Vanda Pharmaceuticals Inc. has come to the aid of airlines!

According to a recent news update, jet setters will be able to fight jet lag by taking an experimental pill (based on something called “tasimelteon”) that may reset the body’s internal clock and improve sleep quality.

Will airlines be shortly negotiating with Vanda for an exclusive version of this pill (Vanda Deluxe? Tasimelteon Plus?) for their business class travelers?