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New Year 2010 on Ulitzer

In an effort to save a lot of pain and suffering for those people who don’t want to read an incredibly long blog post, I have a nice little summary table.  The predictions run the gamut of my personal and professional interests, so they may not be 100% interesting to all people.

99% of All Decade Lists That Come This Year Will Be Wrong – how can I say such a thing?  Well, for the most part, I have already seen the early warning signs that everyone is going to want to do the “decade in review” or “predictions for the decade” or some such thing.  I know this is a nit, but it’s one that has bothered me ever since I got the Final Jeopardy question wrong way, way back.  2010 is not the first year of the new decade.  2011 is.  Deal with it. =)

Twitter Will Become A Footnote – the reality of what Twitter has shown us has not yet been fully realized.  Yes, we have all at one point or another succumbed to the pursuits of vanity by asking people to follow (demanding, in varying degrees, is more like it).  We all watched with rapt fascination as the race to 1,000,000 followers was won by Ashton Kutcher.  Twitter is everywhere – commercials, tv show mentions, Facebook, billboards.  It’s everywhere, and yet it’s nowhere.

You see, the main value I get out of Twitter is information discovery.  Mostly interesting links that are being shared by people who I have chosen to follow.  Yes, you can use Twitter to solicit answers from your network, but those answers may come from people who follow you, and not the other way around.  This follow-asymmetry is what gives me the most angst about the future potential for Twitter.  It’s both wonderful and harmful at the same time.

Further complicating the issue around the “success” of Twitter is an issue which I tracked at my last company, and one for which I know of no easy way to track if you are external to Twitter.  Churn and “last login” times.  Like blogging before it, where the average blog was abandoned in 4 months, I wonder what the time to abandonment on most Twitter accounts happens to be, and how this is changing (growing or shrinking) over time.  Perhaps I will write some code to take advantage of the 10x improvements to access to the stream to figure out the average time lag on the last tweet.  We already know that the vast majority of the content on Twitter is generated by a very small group of people.  What happens when the digerati that made Twitter begin to suffer from Shiny Object Syndrome and move on to the next thing (and they will)?

When I share things on Facebook, I feel confident that they are being consumed by people I know, and those people, more or less, want to consume them.  If you buy into the fact that most people will abandon Twitter at the same, or perhaps increasing rate of bloggers, what is the long term value of sharing content with a Twitter audience?  As people move on, where is the value in Twitter?  I will stop sharing because I am essentially speaking into an empty room.

I have already spent too much of this post on Twitter.  I expect this company to fade into obscurity like PointCast.  Real time search, and user generated content did not start with, nor will they end with, Twitter.  Some company may end up *WAY* overpaying for Twitter, seeing it as a potential trove of information and relevancy to Gen Y and younger, but it’s a fools errand.

Real Time Has Had Its Time – The reason that TechCrunch and seemingly everyone else is frothing at the mouth about real time search is that it’s something about which they can write.  Something about which they can prognosticate and generate page views.  Real time, when you boil it all down, is about surfacing information quicker.  You hear all the time about how Twitter floats a story faster than the traditional media.  Heaven forbid anyone hold Twitter streams to any kind of error or fact checking.  I am waiting for the War of the Worlds moment on Twitter.  Can’t wait for that.

In reality, what we will begin to see is the major search engines battling it out based on their speed to index content.  Twitter is fine for surfacing some interesting link or content, but really, all that’s happening is some pseudo reporting of an event, and you cannot gain context or even real content.  All you have is a signal that something happened.  Google is already rolling out some changes they have made to speed up their time to index, and that will give links to content and context for any new interrupt.  The challenge Google has is that their methods for ranking and relevancy relied on a level of user curation which could take days to surface.  They’re not dummies, and I expect to see more news here.  However, all this trope about “real time” this and “real time” that will simmer to a boil and then hit the back burner.  Why?  Follow the money.  Bing and Google.  Twitter’s $25 million payday from Google and Bing was a nice pat on the head, and the big boys telling them to go to the corner.

Interest Rates Will Begin To Rise – We’ve seen a ridiculous run of low interest rates over the last decade.  This chart on the history of mortgage rates tells a very interesting story:


Consider for a moment that we were supposedly 500 trades away from a complete financial services meltdown.  That was Sept 2008.  What has followed, from this deep economic crisis, is another historic run of continued low interest rates.  For a more full picture of what rates have looked like over the last 17 years, here’s another chart:


As you can see, we are currently lingering in a zone well below the long term average.  Looking at the 4 year chart for the 10-year Treasury shows another interesting bit of data:


After the financial meltdown and subsequent loss of trust in the US markets, interest rates have continued to stay low.  Why is this?  The government continues to allow banks to trade the spread on the TARP money and Treasuries.  When that game is over, and it will be, interest rates will have to climb in order for the much needed capital from international sources to soak up the Treasuries.  How much debt?  With the current strategies employed by our current government, with trillions at stake, we have a lot of debt which need to be floated to cover the costs of the policies.  Who’s going to buy the Treasuries with rates this low?  No one.  In order to move the product, the price is going to have to change, which means interest rates are going to have to go up.  Mortgage rates will follow suit.

Housing Prices Being To Stall And Then Fall – coupled with the erosion of the mortgage market will be a marked decrease in the value of homes.  Whereas the last decline that we had was brought on by panic selling and a general lack of credit, this slump will be brought on by two factors working together.

First, the increase in the interest rates will force many people to start thinking about their affordability index not in terms of total home value, but rather in terms of the monthly payments they can make.  For a $200K mortgage, a 2% swing in interest rates from 5% to 7% is a $257 delta.  As we saw in the charts above, 7% isn’t that crazy from a historical norms perspective.  Now, for a $500K mortgage, assuming you can still get a conforming jumbo loan in your area, that swing in interest rates is a difference of $642 in your monthly payment.  If you live in California, things get messy.  The median income is about $62K, and the median home value is $304K.  Assuming you make that median income, and claim married and 4 allowances on your W2 (oh, and you don’t have any employee paid part of health insurance – ha!), that 2% swing can mean a 9% decrease in your take home pay, and that your mortgage would represent 48% of your take home pay.  How’s that going to work long term?

Second, and more insidious, will be the reduction of property tax collections as a result of the inevitable howls for reduction in assessed home values due to the drop in appraised values or comparable sale values in neighborhoods.  Local governments, already strapped with the pain of poor budgeting and overspending, will seek to replace this lost revenue.  They will most likely seek to do this by maintaining assessed values or increasing property taxes.  Neither will make home owners happy, and both will decrease disposable incomes for families.

Jorge Lorenzo Will Win MotoGP World Championship – taking a break from my professional life/prognostications comes the first of my personal hobby/interest predictions.  Jorge Lorenzo has shown himself to be an incredible racer, even when matched on a team with the greatest motorcycle racer ever.  This will be his year.  He has proven he can beat Il Doctore, and has demonstrated he is more than comfortable on the Yamaha.  Presuming he remains injury free for the season, he will prevail this year.  Stoner is back, but the chinks in the armor are there, and they have not gone unnoticed.

Second, Ben Spies will win at least one race in his debut MotoGP season.  I raced Spies once…way back in 1999 at Road Atlanta during the GPRA (now the USGPRU) National Championships.  I beat him on a 125gp bike, though he crashed out while 7 places ahead of me, after starting from the back of the grid, on his backup bike (that last one is a joke), which means that I too could win a MotoGP race. =)  That weekend I had the good fortune to race against Ben, John Hopkins and Jason DiSalvo.  What a long way each of them has come…amazing to watch.

Netbook Market Disappears – More specifically, the delta between what is called a laptop and what has been called a netbook will evaporate.  I tried to use a netbook for work related tasks (meetings, travel, etc) and found it impossible to use for anything remote resembling actual work.  The 600px screen was impossible to use (come on, seriously, when was the last time you used 800×600 (as a proxy for the size) and were happy about it?), the processor appallingly slow, the memory and the shared video memory make for a terrible experience.  Just awful.  Earlier in the year, I compared netbooks to the Razor scooter, relics of the dot com days which were fun for a little bit, but proved to be a fad.

Yes, you can get a netbook for about $350 all in (cheaper if you are OK skimping on screen size and memory) but what is ultimately going to be the delta between a netbook and a $500 laptop?  Will it be the delineation of the processor type?  If so, either the Atom is going to have to improve or Microsoft is going to have to port Win7 to the ARM processor (don’t hold your breath).  I am sure people will talk about ChromeOS, Google’s forthcoming offering, but we’ll talk about that one in a bit.

The erosion of the netbook market, and even the assist Apple is giving the industry by maintaining a slightly higher price point for their notebooks, is going to play out with people being OK with that $700-$800 price point for a good laptop, and $400-$500 for a crippled one.  All of this helps MSFT, as it will stop the pricing pressure for margins (or lack thereof) on the OS component of the bill of materials.  Customers will continue to benefit from this competition and trend as we continue to see absolutely amazing advancements in personal computers.

Apple’s Disdain For Developers Will Reach A Tipping Point – as one of the folks responsible for developer marketing at Microsoft, I am one of the biggest cheerleaders out there for the plight of the developer.  I love to spend time with developers and talk the nerdy talk with them.  One thing I hear over and over again from folks who are building for iPhone platform is that Apple basically is giving them the finger.  This issue is well documented and doesn’t need to be rehashed here.

What I did want to talk about it is how the anti-love from Apple toward developers could potentially play itself out.  For those of you old enough in the room to remember when Microsoft rose to market leader, do you remember why Microsoft was so successful?  The developers.  Of course.  Apple knows this and has done an absolutely incredible job creating an ecosystem of developers building applications for their platform.  I can’t think of another platform that hit 100K apps as quickly as Apple has.  Developers love to work on cool/important things, and the iPhone platform gives them that opportunity (farting apps excluded).

Unfortunately, Apple only has part of the solution correct.  Developers, like most participants in any economic market, seek to not just build things that they want to build, but they want to satisfy two things in their mind.  Their egos (seeking fame or recognition for their work), and they want to get paid.  All the open source jibber jabber in the world won’t convince me otherwise.  Eventually, everyone has to eat.

There have been plenty of stories of iPhone millions, but really, how many of them are there?  There’s a huge survivorship bias with Apple’s platform, and you rarely hear the stories of the guys who spent tens of thousands of dollars on development only to sell their app to their 10s of friends.  Yes, many apps have been developed, but how much money is actually flowing into this ecosystem?  Apple does a hell of a job getting app developers recognition for their work (seen any iPhone commercials recently?), but they aren’t solving the money problem.  Google is actually getting both of these wrong, for all of their developer communities, but Vic Gundotra will have to figure that out on his own or hire me to do it for him.

Back to Microsoft.  One of the things that makes the company so successful is their ability to help other people make money.  At the Worldwide Partner Conference last year (maybe the year before) one of the quotes from Allison Watson was that for every dollar of Microsoft revenue, there are $14 of partner revenue generated.  Think about that for a second.  That’s $840 billion.  Billion.  Almost a trillion.  Yowsa.  Microsoft is so successful because they enable people and companies to solve problems and make money from it.  It’s taken decades to build, is very hard to replicate, and one of the reasons why they cries for the coming fall of Microsoft are way, way premature.

With Apple, their continued indifference to this monetization problem, coupled with making it difficult for these companies to successfully service their customers (long turn-around times on app updates) will ultimately catch up with them.  I really like how people claim that the 100K apps are the huge barrier to entry to any other phone developer, but all Apple proved was that in a year you could get 100K apps built.  This ecosystem didn’t get built over a decade.  It’s not insurmountable, and the switching costs are not very high for developers.  Maybe Android can get it done.  Maybe Windows Mobile 7.  What one man can do another can do; especially true if you did it in one year.

ChromeOS Proves To Be Another Of Google’s Failures – Google is going to discover the same thing that the Ubuntu guys found out – the netbook market doesn’t support a Linux OS.  I don’t care what you say, it won’t work.  Google is already going to be stymied by the erosion of the netbook market about which I already talked.

Google, as a company, has lost sight of coming to grips with doing that which you want to do and that which you should do.  Customers should be driving development decisions, and while I get that Google wants to make it as easy as possible for people get online, and they believe that by building a net focused computer that more searches will happen online, they have too many hurdles to clear.  There’s no driver which will carry this product to the mass market, never mind the fact that the mass market does not trust the cloud (strict requirement for ChromeOS), and has not shown any immediate inclination to do so.  Outside of the cliquey circles of the 415 and 650 area codes, I don’t see much demand for this product.

Imagine for a second that someone comes to your house the throws out all of your books and replaces it with a Kindle with all of your now thrown out books on it.  Sounds like a logical, and efficient thing to do.  I would kill that person, despite my love for the Kindle.  Yes, it makes logical sense, but no customer would want it.  Yes, the engineers can make up all sorts of reasons why they should do this, but asking customers was not one of the inputs.  Google Docs and Spreadsheet are not the Office killer people want them to be, and consumer demand for the ChromeOS product isn’t there, so what’s going to drive market success?  ChromeOS in the enterprise?  I don’t see it.

The Final Season Of “Lost” Will Not Be Seen – I remember watching the very first episode of Lost and thinking “wow, they just grabbed me by the throat and didn’t let go.”  They introduced all of these interesting story lines, but over time I came to realize that they never seemed to go anywhere.  They just lingered on and on.  Anyone remember the numbers?  WTF happened to those?  They were woven into multiple story lines like a fine thread of silk meant to enhance the value of the tapestry only to be abandoned.  The boys over at Penny Arcade noticed way back in 2006 that things were going a little strangely for the Lost writing crew.

Factor into the mix a writers’ strike and schedule planning with ineptitude on the order of who knows what and the net result is long breaks between seasons where you lose viewers.  The problem with Lost is further compounded by the fact that this is a serialized drama, which means if you miss something, you are lost (pun intended).  Lost itself is given to such fanciful fits of imagery and suggestion that even if you watch the show every week you have about 50% of a clue as to what is going on and must rely on the Internet nerds to show you the frame by frame analysis.  Anyone see the sequence in the shed revealing the Jacob is Locke (or that he has no face, it really depends on your proclivities)?  Remember the guy who carried the thing when Sawyer was in that place?  Well he had a Dharma tattoo on his wrist which you can only see if you do a reverse color scan analysis of the commercial preview.  Yeah, it’s something like that.

So, if your regular viewers are having a hard enough time keeping track of your broken story telling, and you insist on inserting long breaks between seasons while you finish smoking whatever it is you are smoking, and complete you scripts under the cover of night, in a tent, while raining, with a flashlight in your mouth, well, you can expect that this season will bomb.  Oh, and when you really want to get lazy about your story telling, you can introduce time travel to cure all ills.  People may tune in to the final show in the hopes of getting a non-Soprano’s like ending, and they may just.  However, from the friends with whom I have spoken, they could care less.  They are tired of having to work so hard for something which has been increasingly decreasing in return on investment.

Foundations For The Repeal Of Sarb-Ox – The economy is in trouble.  Things are not moving forward as quickly as everyone would want them to, and people are beginning to look at the current administration for new ideas.  Approval ratings are sliding to the point where people have to be genuinely concerned about their ability to get re-elected.  With the onset of 2010, we have in front of us an election year.  36 seats in the Senate are up for grabs, and all of the seats in Congress.  The body politic is tiring of our government failing time and again to get anything done, especially when you have a super-majority.

About the smartest thing the current Democrats could do would be to repeal the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002.  What a complete cluster this has been.  What was one enacted in the hopes of costing a low six figures to enact in a company is currently estimated to cost $2 million a year to put into place all of the controls required.  Large companies like it because it keeps smaller, more entrepreneurial companies out of the public markets.  Smaller companies can’t get access to public capital, which in effect reduces the ability for many of them to grow.

A December 21, 2008 Wall St. Journal article laid out the cast as following: "The new laws and regulations have neither prevented frauds nor instituted fairness. But they have managed to kill the creation of new public companies in the U.S., cripple the venture capital business, and damage entrepreneurship. According to the National Venture Capital Association, in all of 2008 there have been just six companies that have gone public. Compare that with 269 IPOs in 1999, 272 in 1996, and 365 in 1986."

Just look at those numbers.  Granted, there were many crap companies that went public during the dot com blow up, and that harmed personal investors, but that’s not what Sarb-Ox was targeting.  The law was enacted to prevent fraud, not protect idiots from putting all of their money in terrible companies.  Hopefully that lesson has been learned, though I am not sure when I hear about Twitter raising money on a billion dollar valuation.  That’s just crazy talk for a company with a speculated $25 million in revenues.  That said, there are many companies that are just itching for the ability to go public, and they can’t because of needless regulations.

There’s a lot of people up for re-election, a lot of populist dissatisfaction, and politicians love to appear to be “doing something.”  Someone is going to start pushing, very seriously, the idea of repealing Sarb-Ox under the banner of jump starting the economy.

The side benefit from all of the big winners of the last IPO bonanza lends nicely to my next prediction.

The Venture Business, As We Know It, Is Dead – There are several factors at work here, but the top line is that the companies which are getting funded simply don’t need the amount of capital they once did to get to profits.  Further, the number of engines available to small companies to drive customer acquisition and revenues have never been more prevalent.  The economics of the venture funds dictate that they invest ever larger pools of capital.  They simply aren’t structured to take the large pools of capital with which they are being entrusted and invest in smaller and smaller chunks.

Angels have had a bit of a renaissance as of late, but what is not being implicitly reported is the number of no-name millionaires who made their money in exits in the last decade and are investing at $25-$50K clips into early stage companies.  What’s so interesting about these guys is that they all tend to know each other, and they aren’t afraid to share deals.  This is in stark contrast to the venture model where every VC feels that they must generate proprietary deal flow in order to justify their fees.

Further, the dynamics of interpersonal relationships have changed dramatically over the last decade thanks to social networking, specifically LinkedIn and Facebook.  The folks 35 and under are implicitly social and work together.  These newly minted millionaires hail from the development ranks, and they mostly cut their teeth on open source software.  The idea that you work with other people, people that you may not even know personally, together, toward a common goal, for the good of the group is bred into their fiber.  This stands in stark contrast to the hotly competitive, type-A MBA jockeys that run most venture funds.  In many of those funds, they will stop at nothing to get the best deal for themselves, even at the expense of the founders/company.

However, it’s the more recent development to which I have had a third row seat which may prove to be the death blow for traditional venture funds for the software space.  One man VC shops, mostly funded with personal money.  The professionalization of the funding process, but investing their own money (and not OPM), dramatically reduced capital requirements, and an innate sense of collaborative investing process is going to make things exceedingly painful and difficult for the existing larger funds.  Throw into this mix and entire generation of mid-level professionals (read, the Vice Presidents and Principals) who haven’t seen much in the way of exits, and things get even more painful.

I don’t expect orgs like bands of angels coming together to meet on a quarterly basis to do deals.  I actually expect more of a BarCamp approach to funding where small groups of guys who want to write checks get together and start funding these companies.  Should it come to pass that Facebook, Zynga, LinkedIn or any of the real money makers who are sitting on the IPO sideline actually go out, expect a new type of mafia wars (nod to Zynga).  The PayPal mafia can only fund so many companies.

Oil Trading Draws Legislative Scrutiny– There are many, many things wrong with the oil trading business.  I actually wish I knew more about it.  I spent quite a bit of time during my hiatus from RLX to IMSafer working with a company in Houston that was in the oil and gas industry, and we spent quite a bit of time with hedge funds and MLPs in the space.  One thing that I came to love was how insane the oil market is.

Demand reality is not reflected in the oil market.  I am going to say that again so that everyone hears me.  Demand reality is not reflected in the oil market.  The challenge presented by the oil market is that anyone, and I mean anyone, can participate.  You can trade barrels of oil whether or not you intend to take possession of them, and indeed the vast majority do not.  Further compounding the problems presented by this trading model is the leverage which is allowed to be employed by the traders.  The leverage is what really pushes the table action.

When I said that the demand doesn’t reflect reality, what I really mean is that it reflects the collective perception of the many market participants who make highly leveraged trades based on information which may or may not be right, and speculation about future.  Ask 10 people in the oil and gas industry how much oil is in the ground, and you will get 10 different answers.  This lack of knowledge of the exact quantities is only part of the problem.  Technology to recover oil only permits partial recovery – meaning on the order of 40-60% for a particular well head.  The industry has come up with many ways of getting the oil, but it basically boils down to first allowing natural pressure to push it up, then flooding the rock with steam to push more up, and then some tertiary methods to do additional recovery.  However, about half of the oil in a particular deposit is still in the ground.  It cannot be economically recovered.

Throw things like shale oil into the mix, and you have new sources of oil (versus raw crude) that can come onto the market if the price per barrel is high enough.  As technology moves forward, and the industry discovers new and innovative ways to recover the additional 50% of oil still in the known fields, well, things get interesting – but supply isn’t the issue you are led to believe it is.  For today, however, the reality is that no one knows how much oil is in the ground, and the people that are making trades based on market demand are in fact driving/creating the demand by affecting market prices with their outsized leveraged bets.  It’s quite a vicious cycle.

For those of you who didn’t catch the absolutely amazing This American Life which talks about the economic meltdown which occurred in 2008, please do.  You will come to know about and love credit default swaps (CDS).  The short version is that a CDS allows you to make bets on things that you have no business making bets on.  For instance, what if you could buy insurance for every house in your neighborhood.  Wouldn’t you like to get paid if some other house in your neighborhood burnt down?  What if everyone in a neighborhood bought that same insurance on the same house.  50 families all buying insurance that would pay out should one house burn down.  That’s a CDS in a nutshell.  Why on earth would we allow this to happen?  If you don’t have a economic or vested interest in that house (i.e., you are the owner or the underwriter of the loan) why should you be allowed to make that bet?  Further, if you can’t prove that you can make the payout on all insurance policies you write, should you be allowed to write them?  Oil markets are not very far afield from where the CDS markets were last year.  Anyone can play, and you can buy oil on which you never intend to take delivery, and you can do so with massive, massive leverage, without having to supply adequate backup capital or prove that you can even pay out should a multi-sigma event happen.

I believe that someone from the talking head community (either CNBC or Fox Business) will get this story out in the open and the legislators will jump on it.  High oil prices hurt the economy (this one specifically) and they are not high because of an influx of demand or shortages.  Prices are reflecting trading, not the actual delivery and usage of oil.  Prices are further impacted by the price of the dollar (since barrels of oil are priced in the USD$).

Since you don’t actually have to worry about taking or making delivery of the oil, and you can get great leverage, and the price is impacted by the price of the dollar, if you were a really crafty (*cough* nefarious *cough*) trader, you could do some very interesting paired trades.

Windows Mobile 7 Will Impress – I have seen things.  I am impressed.  That is all I can say.  Stay tuned.

Tim Tebow Will Play No Downs That Matter At QB – It’s such a shame that Tebow’s college career had to come to an end at the Sugar Bowl.  He’s one of the greatest college players ever to play the game, and it’s a loss for the sport.  He also presents as a great leader with a genuine passion for the human condition.  With all that said, he needs to give Scott Frost a call.  I love that Tebow wants to play QB at the next level, and I believe that whatever team picks him up will allow him to perhaps take reps during the pre-season, but it’s more likely that they are going to want to know if he can catch a ball.  Think Jeremy Schockey and Kellen Winslow.  Big tight ends who can smack some people around when they have the ball.

Rare in the physical gifts is an athlete such as Tim Tebow.  He has massive size, good speed, incredible strength, and he’s a tremendous presence on the field.  One of the bigger challenges for any team that does pick up Tebow will be how to channel his leadership qualities if he is not under center – you don’t need two quarterbacks on the field.

My call is that he will go in the mid/late second round, perhaps early third round.  No coach will want to use a first round pick on a player that is a “maybe QB, but definitely an athlete.”  This isn’t a case like Cordell Stewart, where it was clear he could transition to wide-out.  Expect Tebow to get put through the ringer during the coming months of pro-days and combines.  If I had to peg the team that will take him, my call is Miami, because of their strong comfort with the Wildcat offense, or perhaps New England because they have two consecutive early second round picks.

More Stories By Brandon Watson

Brandon Watson is Director for Windows Phone 7. He specifically focuses on developers and the developer platform. He rejoined Microsoft in 2008 after nearly a decade on Wall Street and running successful start-ups. He has both an engineering degree and an economics degree from the University of Pennsylvania, as well as an MBA from The Wharton School of Business, and blogs at

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