Will Bitcoin Become the new Cash?


I’ve written a number of times about mCommerce and digital wallets. Now we have loads of companies offering services for electronic payment. These include the Apple Passbook, and many apps using NFC or other means to exchange money. The key thing that joins the hundreds of apps available is that they are legitimately tied to credit cards and banks. As such they provide audit trails and of course tie the world economy together as much as that is possible.

In the future I have postulated that actual paper money will decline and potentially phase out. I could see that happening in New Zealand faster than many other countries. We only have a small number of banks and clearing houses and as such were able to be the first country to mass adopt EFTPOS in the retail environment. Many people no longer carry cash.

However there is of course the grey market and one of the challenges there, is that people who do not want their money transactions audited. There is a global economy like this. People who are paid under the table for their work, people who deal in illegal activities such as drug sales, stolen goods and others. There are also people who just want to opt out of the system or at least flip it the bird. Cash of course can work around the system easily, there is money laundering and people will accept cash for most things as I experienced a few years ago when I watched a guy buying a used Ferrari with folding money he pulled out of his denim jacket pocket.

Much of this money circulates around the system but not through it and this is a challenge if hard cash currency ceased to exist. Or is it.

Yesterday I was on my way to a Microsoft Cloud presentation (which I will blog about on one of my blogs) either SoLoMo Consulting, or Imersia). I was a little early, so I sat in my car and read the latest awesome TNW Magazine on my iPad. Its a great magazine which I recommend you read if this blog is of interest to you, because it is the Money issue. There I learned about Bitcoin.

Bitcoin is “Bitcoin is an experimental new digital currency that enables instant payments to anyone, anywhere in the world. Bitcoin uses peer-to-peer technology to operate with no central authority: managing transactions and issuing money are carried out collectively by the network. Bitcoin is also the name of the open source software which enables the use of this currency.”

Effectively here is no bank, no fees, no audit trail. There are all sorts of businesses, even retailers, who will accept payment in Bitcoins just as businesses accept payment in other forms of money, such as Bartercard Dollars. The difference again of course is that Bartercard still connects to the banks, has an audit trail and the Governments continue to collect their taxes.

Ultimately my question is, will Governments allow this sort of  “experimental currency” to continue? Can they stop it? It appears to already have a massive following. You can buy a coffee with it, you can play poker with it. There are sites where you can buy and sell Bitcoins such as Mt. Gox and there ar others too, although I noted that one of those has dissapeared and I noted a story there that Barclays had stopped allowing people to trade with them.

So what happens if the authorities stop Bitcoin? (assuming Google or someone else don’t buy them, but Bitcoin does seem to have an anti-establishment feel to it, but it could be all about the money).  Well there is also Dwolla,  LibertyReserve, and a host of other systems. I suspect that as cheap smartphones gain mass adoption in the blue collar world, there will be more interest and demand for ways to continue to do ‘cash deals’ without cash.

Futurists are talking about the Local-Global Duality with shifting borders and changing geopolitical landscapes. The one thing keeping us together as countries, or pulling us apart is money. Financial institutions and Governments  are struggling to maintain a status quo that will keep countries running. As countries grow deeper in debt after the GFC people rush to take their money out of the banks for fear of losing it altogether, which in turn intensifies the crisis.

Farmville Tractor

ex

I’m not saying I agree with currencies like Bitcoin. I still want my roads and infrastructure, order and safety in my community. I believe that one way or another money from illegal activity still works its way back in, like the guy I watched buying a car for over $30,000 in folding. I do suspect however that we will see a proliferation in ‘currencies’ like this in the future. I also suspect that the criminal elements in our societies could be the ones with the most to gain from them, but also that there will be many scams which will be developed to trick people in giving up real money for virtual currency which they will never be able to repatriate. Silly really, when they can legally create computer games and sell virtual stuff and pay tax on legally earned activity with much less risk.

Orcon I Was Wrong


I’ve had more than my share of troubles with my ISP, Orcon in the past and I haven’t been slow in coming forward sending them brickbats.

I thought this was another of those occasions when I checked my account and it was quite a bit over what I expected. The PDF of the accounts didn’t show why and I didn’t think to check on-line  which I could have done, because the amount I was being charged appeared to be about the same as I was paying before I signed up to a new plan.

I didn’t call them about it straight away because I had spent so much time in the past waiting for their call centre to answer and if there is one thing I can’t stand it is waiting in a queue listening to musak, ads and being told that my call is important.

Yesterday I received an email asking me to respond to an on-line survey and thinking they were in the wrong, I gave them 2 out of 10 for service and explained why.

Today I was delighted to receive a phone call from the call centre on my mobile, discovered that the invoices were in fact correct, I had gone over my data cap of 30GB, but not enough that I should go to a higher plan. I also switched to a new plan that was slightly better than the one I was on and cancelled a service I no longer require.

So while I have no problem in complaining when I feel I’m getting a raw deal, I also want to compliment them on their quick response. I didn’t expect a call at all and I was really impressed with the prompt and friendly service. So this time, thanks Orcon. 10 out of 10.

Now if you wouldn’t drop the connection momentarily from time to time when I’m on-line playing poker and am going all in on a monster hand and playing for real money I would not only be happy, I’d be over the moon.

My 3 Essentials for the US Road Trip


My Thrifty Rental

I’m going to go into more detail continuing from my previous US road trip blogs, but I want to start with the 3 items that were critical to the trip. Actually it should be 4 because the first thing is you can’t do a road trip without a vehicle. I booked an SUV with Thrifty Car Rentals, online. I have to admit some trepidation with this because they were less than half of the price I had been quoted by a number of New Zealand travel agents. I needn’t have worried. These guys were super professional from start to finish and I highly recommend you use them. Even with a queue we were done with the paperwork in about 15 minutes. We were then told to take our pick from a variety of Fords and Jeeps. We chose the Ford Explorer in the picture because it had tinted windows to hide prying eyes from the fact that we had all our luggage on board much of the time.

So back to my list:

  1. Car Navigation. I downloaded USA maps on to my TomTom GO LIVE 820 before we left. For a long trip the cost of renting car nav is probably more than buying one. I didn’t realise I could have also downloaded live services, which would have been awesome and solved some of the problems I had along the way, but nevertheless, our trip would not have been possible without TomTom. One lesson I learned in setting it up was that the file was way too big to go on the device, but when I put a SD Card in the slot it installed so easily I was worried that I had done something wrong. I hadn’t, it just worked. Grateful thanks to TomTom. It guided me to all the places I needed to go (I changed the voice to American, Kiwi and Australian didn’t really cut it with names like Lake Ponchtrain)
  2. My iPhone. I will go into detail in upcoming blogs about all the apps I used on my iPhone and why, largely because there were no single apps that could tell me what I needed to know about attractions, accomodation, food etc. This is great for the development community, but if I was’t a geek, we would have missed out on so much and probably have been dissapointed with our ability to meet our bucket list expectations. Not only the apps, but also the ability to stay in contact with family at home, using a combination of voice and data apps including Facetime, Skype and Voxer.
  3. A USA SIM Card. We spent about 2 hours in New Orleans getting a local SIM Card. Thanks are required to the team at Keep N Touch on Canal Street who were awesome. Our first trek into town was to Riverwalk Mall, thinking it should be easy to get a SIM card but the two mobile shops there could help us, but they only sold mobiles and accessories. Someone in the mall told us to go up Canal and there would a store there which could help us and they were right. The whole team from the store at Keep N Touch rallied around us for a $50 prepay card from H2O for my iPhone. First they had to take a micro SIM out of one of their phones to see if my phone was locked, then set up an account for me, then help me get it working. $50 got me unlimited calls throughout the USA, unlimited text messaging throughout the USA and 2GB of data! It worked pretty much flawlessly everywhere we went, while my wife’s Vodafone mobile had coverage less than half of the time.

I’m going to write a lot more about mobile and location based apps in upcoming blogs, but basically these were the essential elements without which we would not have enjoyed our trip half as much and you would do well to do the same as we did. The other item I will mention is that we have a service on our Orcon telephone and Internet account (I haven’t had a good run with them, but this one feature was great) giving us free calls to the USA for up to an hour at a time including US mobiles. Once we had the SIM set up, our children were able to call us on mobile, within the constraints of the time zones and we used it a lot.

Planning a Road Trip


Yesterday I wrote a blog called Location Based Lessons from FIT USA Road Trip and I am going to write a series of blogs about this experience.

At first it wasn’t going to be a road trip. As a songwriter I wanted to go to Memphis and Tennessee. I also wanted to go to places that neither I nor my wife had been, so all our experiences would be mutually new.

I would have loved to go to the Country Music Awards in Nashville, but we were too late to get tickets and accommodation in and around Nashville was up about 400% during the festival week. I googled tours for the Tennessee area and the awards and came up with pretty much nothing. There was a tour from Australia, but I really didn’t want to spend a couple of weeks with Aussies. It turned out there was a NZ tour going, I actually met them randomly in Chattanooga including getting a hug from the fantastic fiddler Marian Burns, who had so much fun playing that she had lost her voice. It was odd being in a country where people think NZ is either in Australia or somewhere below Wyoming, one woman said NZ is fabulous, they have some amazing homes in the Balkans, but I digress and she was from Alabama:)

So I contacted a few travel agents in Auckland. I visited a few and asked for brochures for the USA. No one had anything other than cruises. I then went on websites and phoned a few, saying I would like a rental car and to basically do a 3 week driving tour, focussing on Tennessee and Mississippi, based around music and history. What could they do for me. I quickly found out that they had no experience in the USA and the options they came up with made very little sense and were hugely expensive. They were not particularly helpful and their ideas ranged from fly to Chicago and drop the car back in Kansas to why don’t you do a tour of Canada. Their quotes for flights and rental cars were way above retail. They didn’t tell me about interstate drop off fees and I ended up doing half the work for them and still found them wanting.

So off to the net and DIY from scratch. The first thing I did was find the Tennessee Tourist Development Department who kindly posted me a tour book and map of the State. This was hugely helpful. I spent a lot of time reading, using Post It Tags and looking on Google Maps. I searched some car rental sites and found that Thrifty had the best deals by far and I managed to get a Ford Escape SUV for under half of the best prices that NZ travel agents offered me.

The next step was, while I wanted to be a FIT traveller, I needed somewhere to crash on the first night in New Orleans as we were arriving around midnight. I installed the Booking.com application which was recommended to me and booked an airport hotel, The Days Inn, for the first night, a couple of weeks in advance. I didn’t want to pick up a rental car in a city and start driving on the wrong side of the road at midnight after about 30 hours of travel and little sleep. The nice thing with Booking.com is that you can book and provide your credit card details, but in most cases if you cancel within a certain time, they don’t penalize you or take your money.

I also installed TripAdvisor on my iPhone and iPad which was both my lifeline and my nemesis. More on this in upcoming blogs. I relied heavily on the reviews on TripAdvisor and they never let me down. TripAdvisor was the best app I used on the whole trip, but it was incredibly time-consuming. It told me that The Days Inn was closest to the airport, had a free shuttle to the airport and that many rooms had noisy air conditioning. I figured we were going to be so tired it wouldn’t matter and I was right.

TripAdvisor is an excellent location based services application for not only acccomodation, but also places to eat and things to do. Of all the apps I used, this was the best, but it still left me wanting. This was a great lesson for me as a location based services and mobile data evangelist, eating the dog food so to speak. As I mentioned in the previous blog, I have learned so much on this trip and the big lesson is that if you are not a geek, then you have a massive learning curve with mobile data location based apps as available today. If you are a developer, particularly down under, you have brilliant opportunities to develop new applications that are more user friendly, and I can help.

mPass iPhone App

I then started planning for the next 2 nights in Louisiana, which I will discuss in my next blog. I will mention that we placed a bid on MyAirNZ for a Skycouch as this was my wife’s longest flight to date (Auckland to Los Angeles) and we had 2 more flights straight after that to get to New Orleans. We were told that we could bid for upgrades using airpoints and considered that as an option but looking at the Premier Economy that looked really impressive (and obviously felt so, looking at the big grin of a retired senior politician beaming at me from one of them on the return flight to NZ) they didn’t allow you to lie down, or get anywhere remotely like that. If there are two of you and you are happy to lie down in spoon position, I’d go with the cheaper Skycouch option and note that if they are not all sold, they get cheaper the closer you get to the flight, although there is a risk that if you wait too long you miss out.

I also installed Air NZ mPass on my iPhone which I also strongly recommend you add to your smartphone. It was quite helpful at times, which I will also explain later, at least when it comes to Air NZ flights, but not very helpful for code shares where it pretty much failed.

In my next blog I will discuss my next two days and how the American tourist and hospitality industry is getting really well-connected when it comes to mobile apps, social media and web sites, but there are major disconnects between having the apps and doing something with them. They appear to be ahead of New Zealand when it comes to business prescence on apps and websites, which is something NZ travel and tourism businesses need to address, because inbound tourists are going to have expectations I don’t believe we are meeting. A large percentage of those tourists will have smartphones and expect more. On the other hand, whilst everything looks wonderful, many properties pay lip service to social and location based media after they have invested in the technology and completed the app sign off. This is a similar attitude that many properties have to their web sites. Build and forget.

Want to know what happens next? Subscribe to this blog and wait for the next one which won’t be far behind.

Whitcoulls and Borders


I was thrilled to learn that the remaining Whitcoulls and Borders have been sold to Anne and David Norman. Now they have some hope. They will now live in the Pascoes Group and of course this group are known as having revived the ailing Farmers chain and given them new life.

Once the essential housekeeping details are sorted, such as property leases and staff contracts, there is every reason to hope that they will breathe new life into Borders and Whitcoulls.

That can not mean BAU or Business As Usual, because even though they did OK and the biggest problems were in Australia with REDGroup. Nevertheless these stores were not run optimally and they were not run with the times.

I heard people, partly lead by local publishers, saying that if the NZ stores were run from Australia, they would probably signal the demise of the NZ author. Certainly I agree that we would have seen less Kiwi authors in store, but I think ultimately either the publishers would have to become less greedy and insular or the local authors would start to embrace the new eBook media and of course in doing so they can either self publish or join Amazon or other local eBook publishers. Neither are ideal for people who love books.

As I’ve said in many previous blogs about Whitcoulls and Borders, a few of them can be found here, the first thing is to go back to basics. For these stores to be successful they need to operate smarter and provide what the modern shopper wants. There are many good examples overseas.

With the chain expanding, here a some ideas that I would look at.

  • Macy's

    Gift Registry. Chains like Macy’s in the USA have had phenomenal success with their national gift registry programs for decades. They have kiosks in store which are linked nationally. I was so excited the first time I went through one I almost bought a gift for a young man’s Bar Mitsva in Chicago. I was in New York at the time looking for a hat in one of the coldest winters I have ever experienced. It was so well laid out, there were thousands of special events from weddings to anniversaries and being national, you could see from New York, what a person in Madison Wisconsin had their hopes on. Given that the chain owns Farmers and a number of jewellery stores, this would be a great opportunity to combine the lot.

  • I keep harping on about Jeff Jarvis’ book What Would Google Do? It’s funny in a way that in one of his first blogs about the book, he suggests that you could buy it from Borders. The thing was though that I couldn’t buy it from Borders at the time because they didn’t have it, so I bought it from Amazon.
  • So I think that Borders and Whitcoulls need to start saying, what would Amazon do. So many companies are naive and believe their own hype that web retailers (only part of what they are) are no threat, or they consider them such a threat that when things go bad, they become a self fulfilling prophecy.

Hanging a few Kobo’s on the wall is not the answer, that has been a major botch up in my humble opinion. Even on the web, sell the sizzle on the home page! But some things they could do with their ‘loyalty’ programs is monitor what each customer buys and make recommendations based on the buyer habits. I have bought at least a dozen books on Amazon’s recommendations. Amazon is also much cheaper than buying locally, but that’s a different story because it costs a lot to get books to New Zealand, so unless you buy a stack of books, you pay back what you save on freight.

Amazon has many great features that can be just asdestination events

Mobile Marketing easily applied to a bricks and mortar chain, which has the benefit of being able to hold a book, tell you what store it is in and provide you with much quicker gratification.

I don’t want to write a book, but here a some things you may find in this blog in the coming days for Whitcoulls and Borders:

  • Becoming a destination for events such as readings and signings
  • Back to basics and way beyond in inventory management
  • A major web presence with lots of ideas perhaps sparked by What Would Google Do (which should be a mandatory read for all Whitcoulls and Borders management at all levels)
  • A new way for both stores to have lots of stock available, but not necessarily on the spot. A central warehouse with the option of home delivery could cut down inventory sizes without sacrificing range and depth.
  • Embrace proximity based marketing on mobile devices. I would strongly recommend that management from Borders, Whitcoulls, Farmers and in fact all retail chains attend the Mobile Marketing Forum in Auckland this June. This Forum could be called The Retailer Strikes Back. They will learn many new ideas at this event.
  • Understand their regional customer base. There is no point in carrying the same stock range in each store. It simply won’t work and you will have aged stock going on sale. Some of the category managers need to take a long hard look at the books they have been stocking and ask themselves what on earth possessed them to make some of the decisions they made? Or was it the publishers reps that conned them?
  • They should look at products like GeoSmart’s impending Business Intelligence on a MAP. This could produce many aha moments when used to geographically view their business results in combination with consumer demographics.
I could go on but that’s plenty for now. I think with the right motivation and attitude, these two stores can be not only revived, but will rise to new heights. But only if they stop living in the past of this is the way we always did it. They need to embrace and perhaps even lead the future. It’s not hard, its just thinking outside the square and remembering that it is the customers and the books that make your business. Its about the words and the stories and people.

How Did the Telco’s Do in the Christchurch Earthquake


So when the quake hit Christchurch, what happened to telecommunications? Naturally in an emergency people need to communicate and there were some interesting situations. In an earlier blog I wrote about your emergency kit. So here are some interesting lessons from Christchurch and any other emergency situation:

Without electricity portable phones don’t work. If your phone requires a transmitter from the junction box to your portable, it’s not going to be transmitting anything. Many people still had copper phone lines even though they didn’t have electricity. Analogue phones still worked and Telecom in my opinion did an awesome job getting people to donate their old phones and shipping them down to Christchurch. I wonder if anyone has taken up the opportunity to start importing old style analogue phones into New Zealand, it must be a great medium term revenue opportunity!

Analogue Phone

With today’s Smartphones, not only did everyone rush to use their mobile to call their loved ones to check if they were ok, they were using mobile data, social networks, tweeting, sending photos and even video, which the media wanted to gobble up, but which clogged the networks for people wanting emergency services. I think the Telco’s did a pretty good job of getting generators to Christchurch and keeping comms up as much as possible, but they have created a bit of a monster that is only going to get worse. In chasing ARPU (Average Revenue Per User) they encourage us to find every possible way to connect on our mobiles, but then what happens if the mobile network gets congested? Obviously they need to work on increasing their emergency capacity as well as normal usage. They are our lifeline. How were they for you?

As I also mentioned in the emergency kit blog, if you’re trying to do all the things I mentioned above, your mobile battery is going to go flat and if you have no electricity that becomes a major problem. New Zealand has been way behind the rest of the world, or perhaps Kiwis haven’t figured it out yet, but we need alternative ways of recharging our mobiles in the absence of an electricity supply. There are lots of products that will allow us to do that. Car kits if we have access to a car. There are kits that allow you to use those conventional batteries you keep in your home and getaway kits (do you?) and also devices that hold enough charge for 2 or 3 charges and then get thrown away. I have one of those for my iPod which I purchased at San Francisco Airport, its brilliant!

Ipod Charger

Comparison Shopping


Comparison shopping on mobile devices has been around for a long time. I first saw apps pop up for Palm many years ago even before I had Bluetooth connectivity. Today things are even easier because of devices like iPhone and Android.

A couple of weeks ago I was listening to a Harvard Business Review Ideacast podcast with John Donahoe , which was refreshing  in itself because John had a refreshingly clear vision and understanding of what eBay is as a business, which is not about selling stuff on eBay. Have a listen for yourself. Any business should understand what it really does in order to be able to do it well. For example if you think a grocery store is there to sell groceries, or a car lot is there to sell cars, then you need to listen to this interview.

Anyway, he was explaining why eBay bought the company Red Laser, which reads bar codes through the camera on your iPhone or Android and lets you see information about the product and compare pricing at both other retailers and websites, such as Amazon and of course their new owner eBay.

This is really exciting, especially in countries like New Zealand where items such as books, which I buy a lot of, are really expensive, so shopping around makes a lot of sense. In that area, I have to say that locally I buy on impulse, when I see something I really want or when its on special. They are just too expensive otherwise. Of course if I had an iPhone or an Android, I could check in real time and see if it is worth buying now or paying the postage from the US.

It was really sad to hear that Borders is likely to file for Bankruptcy this month. They really are my favorite bookstore by far, even though I have complained that in NZ since Whitcoulls bought the local franchise, they are slowly turning them into bigger versions of Whitcoulls which pretty much defeats the purpose, although this situation may vindicate them.

One of the arguments sited for Borders’ woes is their failure to prepare for the growth of the eBook market. This may be true to some degree and it is inevitable that print media will follow the music industry. I’ve blogged about this before, which you can find if you dig into my tags. Print is expensive but there are lots of things that you can do. eBook readers is one, but for Borders I would have thought a great opportunity would be Print On Demand, because this can still  be done via the store and allow access to massive stocks without worrying about the costs of shelf space and aged stock.

Whoops, off on a tangent again. I was talking about comparison shopping. Yes there are loads of applications available, I’ve only picked on one. Mashable has a huge number of blogs on this topic if you want to find more.

So have a look at the Red Laser site, to see what what they are all about and watch the short video below from DizzyDougTV to see how cool this is. You don’t need a bar code reader, just the camera on your SmartPhone. Damn I do have to get an iPhone or an Android soon! Maybe I should set up a website with a PayPal (another eBay subsidiary) link called by Luigi a Smartphone:) Would you donate?

Footnote, a lot of people think of Smartphone apps as being the domain of men, but for women who love sales and special deals, this is one for you. I’ll leave the last word to CHIP Chick.