Archive for April, 2014

Coin Solves A Pain. But Is It A 100 Dollar Pain?

Friday, April 25th, 2014

coin02In Mobile Wallets Should Fix What’s Broken – And It Ain’t Payments, I’d highlighted why paying by plastic card is natural and how mobile wallets are really not offering any compelling reason for people to use them for making payments. Furtheremore, I’d pointed out in Doubling Mobile Wallet Adoption By Halving Its Scope that merchants really don’t find a strong enough business case for replacing their swipe- or dip-based POS machines with ones that can scan card details off of a smartphone screen, which mobile wallets would require them to do.

No wonder adoption of mobile wallets has been lukewarm and we regularly keep hearing news of one or the other mobile wallet shuttering down – O2 and Bart being the latest examples.

That said, carrying all your store loyalty cards and more than a couple of payment cards can be painful.

Cue to the new startup Coin. The Kickstarter-funded project allows you to scan multiple credit, debit, loyalty and gift cards into a single plastic card. Since the card uses magstripe, it works on all existing card readers.

Coin certainly helps you solve the pain of a bulky wallet. And by not demanding new infrastructure at stores, you can be sure that it will work everywhere.

But the question is whether Coin will find enough people willing to pay US$ 100 – or US$ 50 during pre-launch – to solve this problem.

I doubt it.

coin03And I’m not alone. In his Snarketing 2.0 post Coin And The TechCrunch Effect, Ron Shevlin says, “the price point is the other nail in the coffin. Please don’t try to convince me that this convenience is worth $100”.

If Coin’s basic product concept catches on, some VC or the other might be willing to fund giving it away for free with the hope of monetizing the transaction data gathered by Coin card.

On that count, the initial results were encouraging. Coin sold out its US$ 50K pre-launch goal in 47 minutes.

However, in the next two months, the company has booked only a similar amount in pre-orders.

This signals a rapidly flagging interest, as predicted by Shevlin, “I’d bet that many of these people stop using the product shortly after its release next summer”.

Only time will tell what’s the real worth of the pain solved by Coin. Meanwhile, please take the following quick poll to share your thoughts.


online poll by Opinion Stage

If Doctors Use Google, Why Shouldn’t Patients?

Friday, April 18th, 2014

dp03In this article, many leading doctors complain that by resorting to Google for diagnosing themselves, patients are eroding the traditional doctor-patient trust.

It was only a matter of time before the Internet would’ve altered the medical profession just as it has upended many other knowledge industries. However, knowingly or unknowingly, doctors are hastening the change by some of their own actions:

  1. A GP to whom I’d gone complaining about a neckache pulled up a few Google search results on his PC. Beckoning me over to his side of the table, he asked me to take a look at a few pictures explaining the root cause.
  2. A specialist fired up an Android app and agreed with my suspicion that drowsiness could be the unintended side effect of a newly prescribed capsule.

By accessing the Internet in front of me, I felt that both doctors were elevating freely available public domain information to their own level.

This feeling didn’t last long for several reasons:

  • As an Internet user for over 15 years, I know that the old saying “don’t believe whatever you read in the newspaper” applies equally well to the web, whereas I’ve known both doctors for several years and have complete faith in their knowledge and good intention
  • My last few years in digital marketing have exposed me to the vagaries and vicissitudes of search engine rankings and driven home the truth that Google (or Bing or Yahoo!) does not vet the content of any the websites it displays on its Search Engine Results Page (SERP)
  • On more than one occasion, I’ve come across diametrically opposite diagnoses from two websites for the same symptom.

Therefore, I strongly believe that machines can’t substitute doctors backed by several decades of training and practice. Personally, I’d rather take the advice of my doctors than indulge in too much self-diagnosis.

However, that’s only me. The typical patient might be like the one wearing the above t-shirt.

While talking to this patient, doctors might use technology merely as a prop for clear communication. However, this could have the unintended consequence of the patient treating Google on par with doctors. Until adequate trust is established between the two parties, what’s to stop such a patient from heading directly to the Internet for an initial diagnosis in future? Even if they eventually visit a doctor for treatment – computers can’t cure ailments for now! – there’s a potential loss of trust that could hinder their future relationship.

Am I suggesting that doctors should turn Luddites to solve this problem? Not at all.


They can draw inspiration from professionals in other knowledge-intensive industries who make heavy use of the Internet, yet preserve their stature in front of their customers. For example, bankers use Bloomberg or Reuters terminals to trade securities. Lawyers use Lexis-Nexis or Trial Smith to research case law. These online resources contain authentic information and professionally curated articles. Some of them even warrant the accuracy of their data.

No doubt there’s a steep subsription fee for many of these proprietary tools. While that puts them out of the reach of the average patient, healthcare providers should view it as a small price to pay for preserving the doctor-patient trust in today’s digital world.

Google Search – Upheaval Does Not Equal Abuse

Friday, April 11th, 2014

Panda Update photoEvery update to Google’s search algorithm – Penguin and Panda to new a few recent ones – is accompanied by major upheavals in the rankings of websites on the Google Search Engine Results Page. Take the case of Mahalo for example: After the latest Panda update, the human-powered search directory found itself shunted off from the #1 position to the back pages of Google SERP, with the impact being so severe that the company briefly considered shutting down service.

The turbulence is often followed by vociferous allegations that Google acts in an opaque manner. To quote the Founder CEO of the leading Indian e-tailer Infibeam, “there is no transparency on what parameters push up or down certain (Google) search results”.

Sometimes, the accusers sue Google for abusing its monopoly status.

Meanwhile, the search behemoth marches on. Probably because there’s lot more to this than meets the eye. Let’s take each one of these charges and look at their merits one by one.


Google owns 70% share of web search market in USA, 90% in Europe and 97% in India. That makes it a monopoly, at least outside USA. But, is it a monopoly caused by lack of choice?

No. Google was not the first search engine when it launched in the late nineties. Google is still not the only search engine. But an overwhelming majority of users – that includes you and me – happen to select Google over other search engines.

Therefore, Google’s monopoly is created by its users, and not imposed by divine order.


Google publishes copious release notes for each of its updates. Just type panda update into your Google Search bar and you’ll get 1,140,000 results, just from Google, Inc. Therefore, the claim that Google’s search algorithm is totally opaque is not valid.

On the other hand, will the Amazons, Flipkarts and the Infibeams of the world tell us how they arrive at their prices? Will online travel agencies explain why their prices go up whenever we revisit their websites?

Google’s critics might counter that, even if online shoppers don’t know the bases of the prices charged by different ecommerce websites, they can always compare prices online and take an informed purchase decision.

Well, so can online search users. If they don’t like Google, they can use Bing or Yahoo! or some dozen other search engines.


In most countries including India and USA, your electricity provider is decided by your local government. You have no choice but to buy electricity from MSEB in Pune, India, which is where I live, or from PG&E if you live in Mountain View in California, which is where Google is headquartered. Do these utilities reward your loyalty by giving you a deep discount on your bill from time to time? Or do they abuse their monopoly by hiking rates arbitrarily? Yeah, I thought so, too.

turbulence photo

While you can move your mortgage to a different bank that offers better terms, the associated prepayment penalty acts as a strong deterrent against switching.

In sharp contrast, no government or regulator or law forces you to use Google. You’re not penalized if you want to part company with Google and use another search engine. As the company says on its website, “Users aren’t locked in to using Google search… the cost of switching to a different search engine is zero”. Given these differences, abuse is not a sustainable option.

While Google is certainly a monopoly and it does regularly causes upheavals in the online world, it’s baseless to claim that it abuses its monopoly position.

Don’t Fall For The ‘Invisible Versus Unseen Ads’ Charade

Friday, April 4th, 2014

da02The author of the Digiday  article titled Don’t Fall For The ‘Invisible Ads’ Charade concedes that digital ads are sometimes invisible. Despite that, he urges marketers to spend more money on digital ads on the ground that they’re no more invisible than print or TV ads.

No more invisible.

I’m generally wary of double-negatives but this article troubles me for more reasons than that.

When brands buy media, they’re agreeing to pay for a certain number of impressions of their ads (under the popular CPM model). Invisible ads, where the publisher does not serve the ad at all, constitute a breach of contract. That they happen even in offline media is no excuse for condoning them.


And there’s no need to do that either since digital ads are undoubtedly more “visible” than offline ads.

Take print ads for example. A Bangalore-based fellow marketer had recently taken out a print ad in a newspaper in Chennai. For the uninitiated, Bangalore and Chennai are two metros located in South India. On the day the ad was scheduled to run, she sent out a tweet to her Chennai-based followers asking them to scan the ad and email it to her. Even in this day and age of rising competition from digital ads, newspapers rarely bother to send a complimentary issue of the issue in which they’ve carried your ad. As this anecdote shows, it’s not easy to verify whether your print ad has been published. In other words, their visibility is open to question.

Now, with visibility out of the way, let’s assume the author really meant “unseen” ads, which are ads that are served but not noticed by readers or viewers.

All along, digital marketers have been claiming – and rightly so – that digital delivers more measurable results than traditional media. Now, when it gets a bit hot behind the ears, they can’t seek refuge behind weaknesses of traditional media.

Fact is, digital ads do have an “unseen” problem. To continue with the previous example, the aforementioned marketer averred that their print ads have always gotten them more response than their digital ones. 

Digital marketers pushing brands to increase the share of online advertising should find ways to solve this problem. Channel-wise traffic and ad propensity are two key ingredients of the solution. More on this in another blog post. Watch this space!