Author Archive for Chris Smith


Kodak’s Corporate Demise

Kodak fell victim to disruptive technology



Want to Watch TV? There’s an App for That.

Broadcast networks and cable channels pursuing audience engagement via program companion Apps.


Audi-USC Technology Pact

USC design team to spearhead “Audi Urban Intelligent Assist.”


Churches Turn to ICT & Social Media

MARCH 1, 2011 – Wall Street Journal

Small Tech Gets Religion
Entrepreneurs Find Churches Are a Savvy and Profitable Network to Target


When Jim Elliston, a former nondenominational pastor, decided to start a technology company in 2007, he turned to a customer he knew best—the church—to win initial business.

Mr. Elliston says his firm, Clover Sites Inc., of Newbury Park, Calif., has since sold its website templates and Web-hosting services to more than 4,500 churches in the U.S. He also counts those institutions’ members among his company’s clientele, crediting referrals for providing a steady stream of leads.

He started out promoting his business by placing an ad in a booklet for an annual church-leader conference. From there, he says the business started growing through word of mouth. Some 95% of his business now comes from churches.

“It’s a very connected market,” says Mr. Elliston, who also promotes his business by investing in Google Inc.’s AdWords for search terms such as “church website” and “church Web design.”

Prior to building Clover Sites, Mr. Elliston says he didn’t come across any website-development firms trying to appeal specifically to churches. “We realized there was a huge gap,” he says.

The number of U.S. churches has been growing steadily, while at the same time becoming increasingly tech savvy. There are roughly 350,000 churches in the U.S. today, up 12% from a decade ago, according to Infogroup Inc., an Omaha, Neb., database company. These include some 7,900 mega churches—those whose congregations number at least 2,000 attendees on Sundays.

Small firms that provide an array of services—from audio/visual expertise to website development—are finding that houses of worship can be a lucrative market.

Among them is Clark Inc., which designs and installs audio, video and lighting in Alpharetta, Ga. Regardless of their denomination, churches often refer the company to other churches, says co-founder Houston Clark. “It’s networking above and beyond what we would typically experience in the secular market,” he says.

Brad Weston, owner of Renewed Vision LLC, also in Alpharetta, agrees. “It’s somewhat uncommon for churches to think of another church down the street as a competitor,” says Mr. Weston, who has sold his company’s audio and visual-presentation software to more than 9,000 houses of worship. “It was straight through word of mouth that I got more and more customers.”

Churches are increasingly embracing technology. Many now have websites and social-media profiles, and some rely on audio and video tools to aid congregants seated far from the pulpit.

Germantown United Methodist Church in Germantown, Tenn., uses the services of several small technology providers, says Donna Thurmond, communications director. These include a Web-hosting, information-technology, videography and software company. The church, founded in 1840, has YouTube, Facebook and Twitter profiles. “We prefer to work with a small business if we can,” says Ms. Thurmond, adding that the church has about 1,000 regular attendees on Sundays. “It’s a trust issue and the feeling that we’re talking to the person who’s going to be doing the work and not someone who’s three levels away.”

Barbara Kahn, a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, says promoting products or services to a specific demographic is a wise strategy for small businesses. “They don’t have the resources to go broad,” she says. “It’s easier to focus than to try and get everybody.”

By narrowing their efforts this way, small businesses are likely to “develop an expertise,” a rationale that applies to all types of clients, including churches, adds Ms. Kahn. “You can imagine if I do it one time for a church, and there are things I learn, I can apply that knowledge to the next church I work with,” she says.

Targeting houses of worship can be especially effective because these offer the added potential of exposing a business’s offerings to each of their members. Getting a pastor or church leader interested is key, says Mara Einstein, a professor of media studies at Queens College in New York.

“Who better to sell your product or service than the man or woman standing in front of [the congregation] on a weekly basis? It’s someone they have a relationship with, and more importantly, it’s someone they trust,” she says.

To be sure, many churches haven’t been immune to the effects of the recent recession, and even for those that are financially stable, entrepreneurs trying to get a foot in the door may find it difficult if they lack religious affiliations.

And as much as referrals can help businesses, bad work can put their reputations at risk among the congregation.

“Anything that provokes an emotional reaction because it’s done wrong can result in bad word of mouth, particularly when you have groups that value each other’s opinion,” says Ms. Kahn. “People tend to talk more about dissatisfaction than they do satisfaction.


R.I.P. Classmates

FB claims yet another victim.


Wall Street and Silicon Valley’s Divergent Approach to Data-Tracking

How innovation has come to mean different things on different coasts
by Gillian Tett

(Financial Times, 2/16/11)

In recent decades, a curious paradox has hung over the American economy. On the west coast, a gaggle of entrepreneurial companies, filled with some of the country’s brightest brains, has been scrambling to track data in the smartest and most innovative way.

Companies such as Google, Amazon and Facebook are now able to monitor what consumers and businesses are doing around the world in real time. They can track everything from book purchases to friendship links and the consumption of breakfast cereal.

But on the east coast, another collection of highly talented brains has been delivering a very different form of innovation. Wall Street has produced a plethora of products and processes that has made the financial system more complex and (often) more opaque.

But while bankers have used cutting-edge computer technology to, say, develop ultra-fast automatic trading strategies, the data-handling innovations developed on the west coast have been slow to move east.

As recently as six years ago, traders in the credit default swaps market, for example, were still conducting deals by fax. Banks’ back offices were not standardised and regulators could not collect data from them in anything resembling a timely manner.

Beyond banking, many other parts of the financial world went almost entirely untracked by regulators, who remain behind the technological curve.

The question that hangs over the Office of Financial Research, being set up as part of reforms to the sector, is whether these different west and east coast worlds can now meet – and apply Silicon Valley-style innovation to the financial system as a whole. Can the techniques that allow Facebook to aggregate data on online friends in a flash be used to track derivatives trades, say?

Optimists argue that the answer is yes, given the extraordinary strides in computing power that have already occurred. Officials linked to the OFR have started talking to companies such as IBM about how to transplant innovations in the non-financial world into a coherent form of data collection in finance.

But pessimists retort that financial companies have little incentive to co-operate; after all, opacity has on the whole served Wall Street well, enabling traders to enjoy fat profits.

Either way, the really big question is whether the type of entrepreneurial, innovative drive that inspires Silicon Valley can be transplanted to the state sector.

“If you really wanted to revolutionise [data collection], you should ask somebody like Google to run it, and pay them properly,” observes one senior banker, only partly in jest.

Right now, however, that prospect seems even harder to imagine than a world where the OFR starts to fly.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2011. Print a single copy of this article for personal use. Contact us if you wish to print more to distribute to others.


Fashion brands embrace crowdsourcing

The ‘in’ crowd

By Lucie Greene

Published: February 11 2011 17:36 | Last updated: February 11 2011 17:36

Forget dictating the trends, these days brands are throwing the ball into the consumer’s court. Crowdsourcing – allowing your audience to decide on your product via social media, forums, and high-tech web customising programs – has become the buzz phrase in fashion.

This month, for example, New York luminary Derek Lam will launch a new collection via eBay. The affordable line will be unveiled with a runway show during New York fashion week and designs will be put to the vote on in a three-stage process. (Only the favourites will go into production.)

Then there’s Burberry. This year the company will launch a new mass customisation website allowing any fan to customise a classic trench coat in any number of colours or fabrics, embellish it and add a monogram. They can then show their style to friends, who will be able to order it too. This follows Burberry Prorsum’s January men’s wear show in Milan, which was screened online. Viewers were able to click and buy instantly from the runway, receiving their products two months later, several months ahead of the usual autumn deliveries. Customers visiting the site could get instant advice with “click to chat” or “click and call” options, meaning staff were on hand to answer queries immediately.

Never before has the consumer had so much control over what, how, and when products are available.

Talking of the eBay tie-up, Jan-Hendrik Schlottmann, Derek Lam’s chief executive, said: “We wanted the consumer to participate and to have an open dialogue with them about it. It’s such a smart way of doing things. We’re testing the water so we know up-front what people want. You’re not throwing mud at a wall and seeing what sticks.”

Indeed. Derek Lam is using eBay’s 90m-strong global community as a way to trial the brand’s diffusion line later this year. “It’s a prelude. We know lots of people love Derek Lam’s aesthetic but, through eBay, we can find out what they want [from a contemporary line],” says Schlottmann.

At Burberry there are similar hopes for instantly knowing what styles and designs are popular. Imran Amed, founder and editor of the website, says: “My instinct is that it [clicking to buy] is not a huge driver of volume. But it’s a powerful additional data point, like a mass focus group that helps to determine orders for the regular retail channels down the road.

“One of the biggest challenges brands face is deciding how much to produce, and of what. In the past they’ve usually relied on a combination of gut instinct and previous seasons’ sales to decide but even the best merchants make mistakes. Using the wisdom of crowds, some customers say what they like in advance.”

Levi’s has already used the web to democratise its campaigns. This month, for the second time, its poster girl will be chosen from a competition on Facebook. Contestants can enter by uploading their details and a final five will be chosen by the company before being voted on by registered users of Levi’s website.

Crowdsourcing is also used by those seeking advice. Launched in 2009,, a social shopping site backed by celebrity couple Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, now has 40,000 registered users offering advice on fashion buying choices.

But all this interactivity does not appeal to everyone. “I think among many luxury consumers there’s a fatigue of choice,” says Ilaria Alber-Glanstaetten, chief executive of Provenance, a consultancy that is part of global advertising agency M&C Saatchi. “For every consumer who wants to design their own bag, there’s another who just wants to be told what to buy.”

The question is whether that traditional consumer will become a minority. Threadless, a US-based crowdsourcing company launched in 2000 selling T-shirts created by designs submitted from users, has reported revenues of $38m. Groupon, a buying site that allows groups of customers to apply collectively for discounts, effectively guaranteeing a store demand for its products, has rejected a takeover offer from Google reportedly valued at $6bn. And last month Burberry reported a 26.3 per cent increase in third-quarter sales to £480m, partly due, it said, to younger customers attracted by its digital marketing. Which makes it hard not to think that when it comes to crowdsourcing, both companies and consumers are buying into the idea.

………………………………………….. (from Feb 16)

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2011. Print a single copy of this article for personal use. Contact us if you wish to print more to distribute to others.