Thursday, April 19, 2012

How does GroupOn work?

Logo of Groupon
Logo of Groupon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In response to a friend's query, it set me off thinking. Which can be a bad thing...

Sites like GroupOn are built around the concept of social networking. It could be called Social Purchasing. It could also be called a marketplace because it is about bringing buyers and sellers together.
A bit of background
Traditionally, sellers reach buyers through advertising. This could be TV ads, ads in magazines, billboards, flyers or even the sign above the store. Buyers reach sellers to buy either physically at a store or via on-line e-commerce sites. But there is a problem. There is too much advertising and buyers are tuning out. There are also too many products. Buyers become confused or don't find what they want to buy. Furthermore, they may not know about products that they may want to buy because there are too many ads to pay attention to them all.
From the seller's perspective, they want to sell more. Sometimes they just want to sell something that couldn't be sold. They need a way to find people who will either buy more or buy the thing that is not selling. Don't get me wrong. I don't automatically think that trying to sell something that did not sold well as something wrong. Maybe the target market was wrong. Maybe the product is good but got drowned out by the competition. Maybe the product is a specialty product that can't be sold for the price that would include the costs of traditional advertising. There are also perishable products that have to be sold according to certain conditions, like at a certain time or can only be sold for a specific period. These products need to be sold by those conditions.
What ever the reason, sellers want to sell more or simply sell.
How does Social Purchasing works?
Before we get too far ahead, let's understand trade at it very basic form. We have a buyer, a seller, the thing that is to be traded and the value of the thing that both the buyer and seller agrees on. Money that changes hands represent the value that both parties agree upon. In barter trading, the value of the other thing being traded for the first thing is agree by both parties to be of equal value. Finally, we have a place where all this takes place.
So the central issue is getting the buyer and seller together to do trade. This used to be limited by physical constraints. Buyers need to be at the market to buy from sellers. Buyers are also limited to what is being sold at that market. Sellers at the market also face constraints. First is competition from other sellers who are selling the same or similar items. Second is how many buyers are interested in buying the seller's product. So a price for a product is haggled between a buyer and a seller within all of those constraints.
Fast forward a milenia or so and those constraints facing the buyer and the seller have changed. The marketplace has become global. What is being sold is no longer just physical or service-based but virtual. Ways at looking at those constraints have also changed. In fact, those constraints have been taken advantage of to sell more products.
Take for example the storage limit. If a product is about to be replenished, more space needs to be made in storage. So why not sell what has been in stock the longest at a cheaper price. It's sitting there doing nothing, probably losing value every day. Why do you think we have 2 for 1 Tuesdays for a shrimp plate?
The Social Purchasing is basically about getting the buyer and seller together. It works in a couple of ways. The theme centers around how a group of buyers must change their buying behavior in order to get a cheaper price or discounts. The most familiar model is what we normally see in traditional purchasing: the discount coupon. The discount coupon imposes a time limit in order to enjoy the discount. It also imposes physical possession of the coupon when purchasing which is limited by how many coupons are printed.
Other models imposes additional conditions. The most common is group purchases. A discount will take effect once a certain number of people commit to purchase or when the purchaser buys a certain number of the product. Services being sold through social purchasing can impose additional conditions like delivery conditions. This determines when the service can be used. A common use of this is selling a service at a discount when it is not popular. Ski lift ride in summer anyone?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The History of Apple in Pictures

To fully appreciate the history behind Apple, you have to see this gallery of Apple products.  The captions on the side are generally correct for the layman but purist will contest as to which computer first came out with the mouse. Most of them repeat, which shows how much thought was given to them because Apple's products rarely fails to invoke opinions. Like if you want to see start of the "long lines" design phase of Apple, start with the Apple IIc. This design, including the keyboard, is brought to the Macintosh line and remained so almost until Steve Job's return to Apple.

In the beginning people made their own computer casings.
There is also something to be said about the products that have faded into the mists of time. Not everyone now knows that it was the Apple II computer that brought computing to the masses and is the basis for today's computers. The Apple II, together with te Commodore 64, Sinclair, Atari 1024 and the amazingly timeless Amiga, is the foundation of PCs of today. The Apple II introduced or popularized concepts like the expandable memory and slots for add-on cards. 
But even the obscure ones have a place in history too. A rough line can be drawn from the Apple Netwon to the PenPoint OS machines to the Psion Series 5 to the HP OmniGo 100 to the Palm Pilot to Windows CE to the iPad. So underneath all the glitz and shine of the iPhones and iPads lies the pedigree of innovation that has always been part of Apple. 
It is sad that Apple is now more known for shiny gadgets, slick advertising and questionable / innovative business practices rather than for it's innovative technologies that is really the heart of the company. 

Friday, April 13, 2012

Export from Outlook to Thunderbird

An open mind is like an open road,
a journey waiting to happen
Never would I thought the road I take would lead me so far astray. But that is what is good about an open mind. It will lead you many places, often the place you should be. So when I had a problem to export mail from Outlook to Thunderbird, I never expected to use Outlook Express to solve that
A friend asked me to help find a way for her to take her personal e-mails with her. She didn't want nor have a smartphone or tablet. She just didn't want the hassle. Like many true blue users, they learn something and stick with it. Her idea was to find a way to export the message. She even asked me if she could move them to her Hotmail account.
I realized that where she was going, she may not be able to connect to the Internet. But she would still need access to those e-mails, even only if to read them. So my solution was technically complicated but from the user's standpoint, easy-to-use. PortableApps to the rescue!
If you don't know what Portable Apps is, it is a suite of free or open source Windows applications that have been modified to run off a thumb-drive / USB memory stick. The best thing is, you plug it in and click on the taskbar icon to pop-up a menu that acts like the Start button. It will list the programs installed on the USB drive that you can run with just a click. A right-click and you can add more apps from their library of open-source free software. They range from a screen magnifier to the big boys: LibreOffice, Inkscape, Firefox and Gimp. Just select and the PortableApps system will download and install it automatically.
I installed Thunderbird under the Portable Apps menu and made sure it could run ok. Then I exported the folder she needed from Outlook. Problem is, there is no format that Outlook can export to that can be read by Thunderbird. I tried various extensions that neither installed nor were compatible. I finally was ready to import the entire Inbox and then trim out what she didn't need. Which was a problem because she only needed about 25% of the messages in Outlook to take with her.
After reading the various hints and tips online, a common theme emerged. Thunderbird can import Outlook Express just fine but not Outlook. I fired up Outlook Express to see what I could do and was surprised to find out that it could import from Outlook by folders. So I imported the folders I needed from Outlook to Outlook Express. Once finished and satisfied that the messages were there, I closed Outlook Express and started Thunderbird. I then imported Outlook Express (which had all the folders she needed) and they appeared in Thunderbird, on the thumb-drive.
On Linux, you could coax Wine to run Outlook Express and use it as the middle man.
Roundabout way? Yes. Problem solved? You bet. So don't shy away from a solution that is complicated, if you are going to use it only once. Just do it and make the user happy. And sometimes that's all that matters.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Choosing an Android Smartphone: My Favorite 5 Android Apps

Like I said before, half of the battle of owning an Android is choosing the right hardware.
The other half is finding useful apps that double or quadruple it's value. Here are my favorite 3 Android Apps. These are apps that I use every day or those that provided me a function that made me wonder how I managed before it came across them. I've excluded any Google apps (e.g. GMail, Maps) and Messaging Apps (Yahoo Mail, Y Messenger) because I consider those as basic apps that should be in any phone, smartphone or not. Also Battery Savers and Task Killers would really depend on the hardware you bought.

Springpad - I write for a few different blogs that cover different subject matters. Which means I am basically constantly writing. And when I am not writing, I am thinking about what to write. Blogger goes some way by accepting posts via mail. That gives me the opportunity to capture an idea in a short mail and send it to Blogger where it will be filed as a draft post. But the pace has picked up (life happens) to the point where I don't even have time to formulate thoughts before drafting it out on e-mail. Ideas have to be captured, even in it's raw, almost incomprehensible form before they get lost. That's where Springpad came and saved the day.
I first came across SpringPad while using Chrome. It offered a web-based service to what seemed to be a document management system. You could create containers where you could upload files, provide a brief summary and tag them. Or you could create notes and attach files and URLs to them.
But it went beyond that. You could create notes and lists. Or you could create a container which contains items for a list. Or you could use custom templates to capture information about movies, TV shows, receipies. The second best part for me was the ability to just capture a voice memo. I have tried to use the standard voice recorder but my problem was I had to go back, find the recording among all other voice recordings, listen to them again and re-file it. With Springpad, I would choose the container / category before I begun recording. Which allowed me to add notes to my recording later but focred me to pre-file the recodring . Now I am capturing my thoughts on voice and listening to how stupid the idea was or chainging it before posting it.

BeyondPod - is a podcast catcher. I listen and watch to a few podcasts. Mainly from the TWiT network. This is as straight-forward as it comes. It provides a few categories where you can group together podcasts of the same topic but really it's up to you. You can either ask it to search for a podcast in the category you'd like to listen to or give it an RSS feed where it'll pull it down. You can set up a schedule for each feed as to when to poll and download the latest podcast episode. I wish I could tell you about the SmartList capability but I don't really use it because it does what it does so well for me now I don't have to use it. It also is able to handle mixed media. I listen to TechNewsToday and watch ThisWeekInTech (TWiT). It plays the audio podcast internally and hands off the video podcast to the default viewer. Beautifully simple.
I don't go out and explore new podcasts and BeyondPod doesn't go out and try to suggest new podcasts so if you are into that, something else would be better. If there is a gripe, is that the play button is a tad small and placed above the delete button when the phone is in landscape mode. Other than than that, this is a great podcast app.

BookApps - I love books and buy them all the time. I don't get to read them immediately but I do buy books that interest me or that are on sale that time. That poses a problem at the bookstore because I agonize  as to which books do I already own and don't. After buying a few books twice, I found this app and it did what I wanted, get a hold of my library at home. It couldn't be any easier. Scan a book's barcode using the built-in reader and it'll pull down the information about the book (the author, publisher and even a cover image) from the Internet and add it to it's database. You can browse by title, author or publisher. It's like a mini library system in my phone. If the data is not available on the Internet, you can enter it yourself. You can even snap the cover of the book and add it in.
So when I am at the bookstore and am not sure if a book is on my to-read pile, I just pull out this app and look up the book. Some bookstores have taken to place a sticker over the ISBN barcode and replace it with their own. Probably because of Amazon. Which makes it harder but since you can do text searches, I quickly find out whether I have the book and decide whether to buy it.

More to follow..

Recently Popular