Although it's been a quiet summer weekend, there are three long-simmering tech events I want to call your attention to:
Good News for Intel
said Friday its proposed $780 million merger with computer-telephony leader
had gotten at least tacit approval from Washington, with Thursday's expiration of the antitrust review period.
As I said
here in early June, I think the Dialogic acquisition will turn out to be among the smartest Intel's made in the past few years. And that's saying a lot, given the generally savvy investments and buyouts Intel's made lately. Dialogic brings the patents, experience and engineers Intel needs to jump quickly into computer telephony at a much higher level than it would otherwise have been able to tackle.
Every Intel investment is aimed at finding and supporting functions that eat up CPU cycles, to keep us on the treadmill, buying ever-faster Wintel boxes every 18 months or so.
That's absolutely key to Intel's long-term strategy. If people notice that almost no one needs a PC with a faster CPU than, say, Intel's present 400-megahertz mid-to-low-end Celeron chips ... the jig is up. Of course, we don't need anything faster right now, with today's software and, more importantly, with what we do with PCs today.
So, no longer content to trust software developers to keep making ever-bigger, ever-piggier, ever-slower software apps to keep burning up CPU cycles, Intel's focus has shifted to adding new things to do with our PCs. The explosive growth of the Net has been a serious problem there: A faster CPU makes no difference in the quality of your Web experience.
So now Intel's focusing intently on things we can add to our PC worklists, and to things which use the Net as an enabler. Watch for more Dialogic-like acquisitions before the end of the year.
More About Surfing
We know teenagers are already a major market, and a major target for advertisers and print publishers. But while 13-to-18-year-olds spent more than $141 billion at retail stores in 1998, they spent hardly anything at Web sites. Given the popularity of the Web among that age group -- for example, downloaded MP3 tunes have become so popular that CD sales have plummeted among high schoolers -- why aren't teens big spenders online?
Because they haven't got any way to
for things online.
You and I whip out our credit cards at the drop of a cursor, but teenagers rarely have access to credit cards in their own names -- and most e-commerce sites won't sell or ship to someone using a credit card with someone else's name ... like Mom's or Dad's.
Now, teenagers are becoming a major target, both of online-mall operators and of companies that want to "e-commerce-enable" America's teens.
Kid City Mall
and many more teen-shopping sites are emerging. Some are relying on
, a site devoted to putting online purchasing power in teenagers' hands. On icanbuy.com, adults set up prepaid accounts for their kids, by making a "deposit" charged to the adults' credit cards. Conditions can be attached, such as where the kids can shop, how frequently, how much they can spend at a time, etc. In some cases, icanbuy.com says, the kids earn the money, give the cash to their parents, then the parents in effect pass that cash back to the kids by adding that amount to their icanbuy.com accounts. And icanbuy.com accounts are likely to become a popular destination for birthday and Christmas cash gifts from grandparents and other relatives.
Cooperating e-merchants post the icanbuy.com logo on their sites, then kids shopping there can pay for their purchases by drawing on the accounts their parents have established for them.
It's a slick way to give a teenager buying power without letting them go overboard -- if you set and stick to reasonable limits.
For investors, teen e-commerce is going to be a huge market. By playing on both sides -- the malls and also the enablers, like icanbuy.com -- investors will be able to work every sale twice, so to speak.
I don't know any major publicly held companies seriously working in the teen e-commerce market -- beyond those, such as the
, for whom Web retailing is in effect a line extension -- but I'll keep an eye out and report here what I find. Readers with experience in teen e-commerce can help by telling me about your experiences, and those of your teenagers.
: I have deep reservations about the way we're turning our teens, and even preteens, into consumer-droids. I can't stop the trend, and neither can you, but we have to do something in our own families to stop the constant consumerization of young people. From Saturday-morning cartoons' avalanches of buy-buy-buy! TV commercials to kid-focused promotions everywhere in retail stores and malls, we're undermining the normal, healthy development of our kids. I can see societal benefits in preteen and teen e-commerce -- if they can buy online, they can learn to compare, find value and shop wisely, at home and with some supervision, for what they really need, without the pernicious effects of hanging out at malls. But supervision is still necessary, online or off.
Web's Guiding Light
One of my favorite search engines (I just can't call 'em portals; sorry) is
www.northernlight.com. I find a much higher net hit rate with Northern Light than with the more generalized search tools, but you have to understand that the results that come back on Northern Light aren't the same kind of results you get from, say,
. Some of the listings will be the familiar links to material elsewhere, but some will be to specialized, obscure and often very useful stories gathered in Northern Light's huge library of specialized publications' content. For these, you have to pay a small fee.
The list of these pay-per-view sources is long -- about 5,400 publications, from
to transcripts of the
ABC Evening News
Yale Law Review
. This can be immensely valuable stuff ... and most of it is unavailable elsewhere, or at least not available unless you
know where to look.
But many of the sources available through Northern Light are getting antsy about the far smaller per-item revenue they get from those surfers who buy their content through Northern Light, as opposed to those who find a way to buy the information, generally as reprints, directly from their original publishers.
In other words, they don't like Northern Light's serving as an "infomediary" for their material. Or at least, they don't like the percentages in the deal.
Ron Rosenberg had a great story in the
a couple of days ago about this unhappiness among some of Northern Light's suppliers. Worth reading if you're interested in e-commerce and e-publishing (although you have to
pay for the privilege).
For what it's worth, my view is that these sources should thank Northern Light (and its potential competitors) on bended knee, for they make the publishers' material available to a vastly larger audience. There's just no comparison between the two minutes it takes to find and buy an article through Northern Light and the weeks it often takes to find, order and receive a journal reprint from that journal's publisher.
Stop living in the 19th century, guys.
Jim Seymour is president of Seymour Group, an information-strategies consulting firm working with corporate clients in the U.S., Europe and Asia, and a longtime columnist for PC Magazine. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. At time of publication, neither Seymour nor Seymour Group held positions in any securities mentioned in this column, although holdings can change at any time. Seymour does not write about companies that are consulting clients of Seymour Group, or have been in recent years. While Seymour cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, he invites your feedback at