Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Death of a Pop-Up The Birth of a Privacy Invasion

I'm here to inform any website that is so desperately trying to sell anyone anything that they still resort to pop-up ads that their days are up. You're tactics have never actually been successful in selling much of anything except to the users so inexperienced with computers that they think your pop-up is a message from their computer instead of an advertiser.

Thankfully all the latest web browsers have gotten rid of your power to ruin a users experience, and I recommend you heed their actions to add capabilities to block you and search for more creative means to actually engage possible customers instead of annoy them.

Since Internet Explorer and Firefox have blocked pop-ups, I've seen all manner of workarounds - most prominently the "crowd-in" if I could be the first to coin a term that may become catchy. Readers know what it is - those stupid things that seem to slide down from the top or the side and cover up what you're actually looking for only to interrupt you with something that isn't really relevent in general and definitely not relevent at the moment while you're trying to actually seek information, but instead get some stupid enticing and ultimately dissapointing "something for nothing" gig. As much as I like clicking on my mouse button frantically to try to "knock out" a George W. cartoon - I'm kinda busy. How do you make money of this anyway? Really?

So, I say save it. Save your advertising money. These shenanigans are useless. When I'm looking for specific information about Warren Buffet buying stock in Goldman Sachs, don't you think I know enough not to engage in your "crowd-in" ad from AIG?

Google knows this - it is the basis of their profit model for search - relevency. Its a term that translates into "minimal offensiveness" with regards to humans when searching for something and having something else presented along side. In fact, its so important that Google is trying to get more and better information regarding its users so as to increase relevency and make your "crowd-in" ads seem even more clumsy,annoying,intrusive,IRRELEVENT.

Yet despite this, Google has chosen to ignore the customer centric approach that allows so many companies to gain useful information about their customers and stroke their loyalty instead of offending it. By this I mean storing user information on their end and amassing information about you on their computers. This sort of thing is bound to offend privacy advocates and earn it a monicker in line with Micro$oft.

I don't often offer free advice, but here is one piece for Google: you've gone through all the trouble of adapting code to make an internet browswer, why not actually listen to some of the marketing folks for a minute. If you did, and they're good at their jobs, they'd tell you that every piece of information you gain from someone has a cost in privacy currency and must be paid back to the customer. Most importantly, the customer has to know WHAT has been taken and HOW you'll repay it in kind. This is called a contract - not the 1000 line one's you provide a checkbox for to agree, but specifics - what are you collecting and how I can opt out if I change my mind and trust you to get rid of it. If you don't do these two things, forget about it - the ISS will be all over you and you'll be the next Evil Empire.

The browser model has promise though because it allows much if not all of this information to be stored on the client computer which can then be erased at their first inclination of nervousness or deceit. Store is securely - encrypt it if need be, but allow the user to see everything and allow the code to be open for privacy people to evaluate it. Do this and track where and what people will agree to and you'll be on your way to 70% market share with IE on its way to 30% or less.

Want a killer knock out punch - allow people to rate the relevency of the ad you throw in front of them and maybe even rate them if they clicked on them - you're ads learn and you're model adjusts based on your targets input.

Here are some bits of information I'll trade for convenience of your knowledge:

I'll let you use my zip code if you can provide a list of restaurants I might choose given the time of the day. But - allow me to exclude certain choices easily and remember them next time.

I'll let you know what car I drive if you can show me where I can get tires for it within the general area or tell me about recalls and such - now you've got two pieces of info (car/zip code) and you're helping me out by using both - I can get on board with that.

I'm sure everyone has a ton of things they'll provide if they know it will help them and not annoy them. It is your job to put this together to drive traffic/advertising without pissing me off.

Good luck, I'm picky and verbose.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Not Just Another Incredible Buying Opportunity

I read a lot. I don't read fiction, I'm boring and fiction excites me too much. However, recently it seems that many periodicals reporting on the facts seem to be dealing in the fictional world where sticking to the long term investment strategy is the best strategy.

Ok, so its not total fiction, but let's classify it as "historical fiction". My problem arises when a magazine called "Smart Money" tells its readers to focus on the long term and stop watching CNBC - "eventually your long term conviction will pay off". My problem is that the word eventually employs a wreckless amount of historical fiction. Let me illustrate my point.

The guts of the argument employed in the "long term" view is that over the past 100 years, the stock market has returned more than any other asset class. This I will not dispute. However, what I think would be fair would be if the same people trotted out all the 100 year olds who are still around to brag about how taking this advice made their lives secure and full of wealth by investing in the Dow.

Ok, so you get my point - the long term is nebulous. The real problem arises in the fact that the long term doesn't suit everyone's time horizon for retiring or "cashing in". All the same people who say market timing is not a good way to invest seem to figure in the fact that you'll be able to do it once successfully, exactly when you want, just before you retire, and probably so that you CAN retire.

Well, needless to say - if this sounds like a good bet - all those people who have accomplished this successfully, please post a comment to brag! For all the others who saw their nest egg shrink to levels back in 2003 today or in the YTD leading up to this - don't be afraid to post this question to your financial advisor.

For those people who already know they'll hear a line of bullsh*t from their broker/wealth manager outdone only by Nancy Pelosi's statements somehow finding a way to blame this all on George Bush, lets get on to how you're fear is relevent to your wealth management.

Question 1 - When did you first become concerned about your retirement savings eroding?

Does Oct 19, 2007 ring any bells?
Does Nov 26, 2007 ring any bells?
How about Jan 22, 2008?
Maybe Mar 10, 2008?

In case you haven't - those would be the 4 times you had great opportunities to read the writing on the wall, get scared and move to cash. Now investment professionals will tell you that these were all chances to "sell at the bottom". However, selling on previous dates would have saved you bundles. In fact, Mar 10, 2008 would look like a smart time to be chicken even if you'd ignored the prior three. And maybe if you'd watched a little CNBC you might have an inkling of the risk and realized that all the super safe things being sold to you were potentially coming into jeopardy - Muni Bonds, High Yield Money Market funds featuring Auction Rate Securities, the DVY with its healthy alottment of financial companies about to head into crisis making the dividend yield seem like peanuts in comparison to the losses already mounting.

I bet your broker didn't call you to warn you about all this. Quite the contrary. Even if you read the news and decided to call him/her he/she probably just said - "great chance to dollar-cost-average" - this is code speak for I'm collecting a fee from you, but I'm not smart enough to show you how to weather this or profit through whatever is changing because I don't know what is going on, but please keep giving me money so that eventually (there it is again - "eventually") you'll (more importantly your broker) be proven to be genius.

So, my condolences to those person's looking to retire in 2009 - you're likely off 20% of your equity position along with another 5-10% in your home if you wanted to sell it. Hopefully you're not completely in equities and maybe your bonds have held up better, but all this misses the point - you probably saw this coming last fall or after the new year or in March or in June, the news told you about it, and you could have avoided it if only your wealth manager cared enough to be bold and protect you. Now it may all be fear related (herd selling) in which case maybe the herd will return, but right now your portfolio is lunch for the bears and you're thinking about working longer. But, just in case today wasn't the bottom and there is more pain to come (there is - AIG, Goldman, Morgan Stanley, WaMu which CNBC has stated 37 times today already) wouldn't you rather be on the sidelines watching another 10% drop even if it might mean you'd miss 5-10% on the upside when the market finally turned.

My point is - your fear, if you stay informed, is the best wealth management tool you have. It has no vested interest in keeping you in the market and if you listen to it you'll at least know your accumulations won't dissipate which is exactly what you need in order to not have to work even longer while you wait for "eventually" to come again....and hope you see it next time, because you're broker won't.