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March 2012

Tablets And Education: Dream or Reality?

Textbooks_currentWithout a doubt, teaching our children to operate in a digital world is a good thing.  Education that utilizes digital devices is a great way to acclimate children to their future lives, cultures, careers and workplaces.  

What would be the cost of equipping a digital classroom with tablets?

The FCC has produced a report that shows that this model may be closer than we realize, with a projected 2% outlay for the switch.  While I applaud the FCCs efforts, I think their dream may still be a few years away from being our reality.  You can view the FCC report at the bottom of this post.

Below are my concerns with their cost structure and analysis:

  1. There are no viable tablets on the market that cost as the FCC suggests, $250.  By viable, I mean tablets with strong software support, ease of usability and a plethora of new skills development apps and features.  These fictional or futuristic $250 tablets will need to be fairly ruggedized and must come with cases that are equally strong. Look at any kid's knapsack to see how tough these must be.  This tablet doesn't yet exist at this price point.
  2. There is a real licensing barrier.  Most text books last 5-8 years in many schools, whereas digital books at least in their current licensing will likely need a new license every year for every new student.
  3. There is also a very real infrastructural cost.  Schools must now not only ensure proper and protected wifi across the campus, but at least 30 accessible of outlets (not just along the walls) in every classroom.
  4. Tablets, at least at current, don't look like they will last more than three years at the most with daily use.  This four year refresh rate is a pipe dream, particularly with daily use and frequent trips in a backpack.
  5. The suggestion that tablets for every student will replace the need for a computer lab or a computer terminal in every room is ridiculous, at least for the next 5-10 years.  For the foreseeable future, most real productivity happens in a desktop environment.  And I would love to see public school libraries try to figure out wireless printing synced to 2000 tablets.  PCs aren't going to go away with the introduction of tablets, so we can't budget them as replacements.
  6. Tablets are also going to need accessories.  Keyboards, pens, chargers... all of these will be lost and damaged and will need replacement.
  7. In an informal survey of about 15-20 teachers I have found that almost all teachers (in my limited surey) do not want their students to have access to tablets or the internet in the classroom for the majority of their learning time.  Learning requires focus, and tablets are a welcome distraction to many if not most students.  And it will be quite some time before tablets can replace workbooks - this would require a far better stylus interface than any sub $400-$500 tablets currently offer.
  8. The tablet market it still in it's early phases.  Massive software and hardware developments will take place over the next five years.  It would be fair to suggest these updates will make today's best and brightest tablets obsolete in about 2 years.  This means that the cost of the actual hardware is likely double of that stated in this report, as hardware refresh rates will be far higher while the technology experiences the fast iterations of growth common to all new markets.

That said, I would love my children to start learning on tablets in 7th grade, along with a curriculum in coding and design.  There is no reason our kids are graduating from high schools with a better knowledge of chemistry (a fairly specialized field and science) and artistic composition (at least one two years or art) than computers.


FCC report below:



How much do YOU value your dignity?


Let's be real.  With all the hullabaloo about one man publicly bashing resigning from Goldman Sachs (and slightly more geeky buzz about one man sharing his reasons for leaving Google) we are left with one big question:

If Goldman Sachs outperformed their competition,
would you care how they spoke about you behind closed doors?

and in the geek world

If Google weren't really built for sharing,
would it really impact your Google+ usage or loyalty? 


Before you answer this question consider how you purchase your airline tickets.  If you are like most people (not a frequent flier, a business traveler or highly affluent), you will go with the cheapest ticket at the right time for you.  I have neighbors who swore up and down that they would never again fly airline X, and then flew them again 18 months later when they had the right bonus points or saved a couple hundred dollars or had that perfect flight to get them back on time for another important deadline.  As a society, we will accept a certain amount of disrespect if it saves us a buck or avoids an inconvenience.Think about it.  If Goldman Sachs treated you like dirt behind your back and made less savvy investments, but still beat out their competition and were totally pleasant to your face, would you care?  Would you withdraw your money?  Isn't the purpose of an investment house to make your money make you more money, or more importantly more money than any other investment house?


So let's come back to today's hullabaloo.  If Goldman Sachs can continue to outperform their competition and treat their valued clients like valued clients to their faces, do we really care about what goes into the sausage?  

Look hard and long in the mirror.  Tell me what you see.

Why would CNN buy Mashable for $200,000,000?



Rumors are swirling about CNN buying Mashable for as much as $200,000,000.  Why would a blog be worth $200,000,000?  Why would Mashable be worth $200,000,000?  

Let's review:

Talent - Medium Value

Great blogs are fueled by compelling personalities and meaningful perspectives.  These personalities often have large followings of their own, which in effect extend the value of the overall property.  HOWEVER, talent is far from a fixed asset.  Blogs are not baseball where players can be traded at the owner's will.  Look at TechCrunch and Engadget.  Both blogs saw a massive exodus of talent post-acquisition and are beginning to see (in my experience) a loss of reputation equity as a result.

Mashable is unique in this regard.  While Mashable has a handful of highly visible and respected members of the industry as leading contributors, much of their content comes from guest contributors.  As long as Mashable continues to be a respected place to publish, these guest contributors will continue to participate.

Traffic - High Value

Blogs are destination sites.  Strong traffic offers both advertising revenue and the ability to expose existing properties to the blog's readers.  Traffic however, will ebb and flow with quality editorial and persuasive personalities.  If the key personalities jump ship, traffic will go down.

Mashable is a unique property.  They have great traffic, but at 3,200,000 unique visitors a month (according to Compete)  and assuming the $200,000,000 that's a valuation of $65 per visitor on a monthly basis.  If we assume a valuation speaks to the yearly revenue of the site, we land at about $5 per visitor.  If we take a two year view, that's $2.50 per visitor.

While it's true that Mashable speaks largely to a lucrative B2B audience, I don't know that the ad dollars alone line up.

Content - Medium Value

Mashable has become a premier destination for publishing major thought leadership or announcing a new industry study.  Mashable is the go-to content source for much of the digital marketing industry, and this content could offer legs beyond the site itself, particularly when syndicated across a broader network of sites.

Mashable clearly offers two or three levels of content.  Some of their content is highly informed, well written and properly presented.  However, there is a good deal of content (generally written by guest contributors) that is poorly written, ill informed and on rare occasion is outright incorrect.  Mashable's content is a mixed bag.  While this is an asset that can be bought and sold, it is not the strongest asset.

Community - Medium Value

Successful blogs boast loyal and vibrant communities.  These communities engage in the comments section, supply guest bloggers, and share blog content, creating new eyeballs and future community members.  This well cultivated community is a strong asset, particularly for a media property who is looking to attract a similar community.

Mashable has a fairly loyal community of what is likely a couple million regular visitors and a good number of commenters.  Mashable's community is fairly loyal to Mashable as a content source, but not their only source of content or perspective.  The community values Mashable, but if Mashable's talent leaves the community may follow.

Name Recognition - High Value

Tech content is both becoming increasingly important to the general consumer audience, and increasingly lucrative to B2B marketers.  As industries like television and digital media come together, there is real expansion potential for the go-to marketer content destinations.  Mashable is this close to becoming the new Ad Rag (or replacing them).  And with the rise of social and mobile marketing as real industry, there are a growing number of solutions providers who will pay good money to get in front of perspective customers.  

While Bloomberg is trying to attract a more tech-centric audience, the Mashable name would lend CNN real geek creds and fast.  This is important for both general news consumers, but is far more lucrative when we consider the growth potential for B2B.  This is likely a multiplier on Mashable's property value potential.

Events - Medium Value

Major industry blogs participate in all of the industry events, often as hosts or leading sponsors.  All Things D elevates the Wall Street Journal digital creds at their managed events, as well as through their participation at other events.

Mashable is a mixed bag in this regard.  Mashable manages, participates in and sponsors an incredible number of industry events.  Mashable is a respected name at events.  However, I don't know that this is that important of an asset to CNN.

Bottom Line

I have tremendous respect for Pete Cashmore.  An acquisition would make total sense for CNN and could do wonders for Mashable.  But I'm struggling to come up with a rationale that speaks to a $200,000,000 valuation.  There is real brand name value, content value and significant B2B ad revenue on the table.  

But is it $200,000,000 of value?

Socially Personalized Search Isn't The Answer

Both of the web's leading search enginges now use social data as a signal in determining search results.  On a related note, Facebook uses my social network and engagement data to personalize my stream.  And this often sucks. Not because I worry too much about my privacy, but because it promotes a fishbowl effect. 

I recall a news story a few years back where conservative political pundits accused Google of favoring liberal content in search results.  I have heard the same accusations from liberals.  This is the beauty of near-universal search results.  We as a society were regularly presented with views other than our own.  As much as I am fairly comfortable with my potlicial allegiances, I love that the web regularly exposed me to new thoughts and ideas.  Google once exposed me to both sides of the story, not just the sides my friends were talking about.

Unfortunately the premise of personalizing one's search experience based on social data minimizes this broad exposure.  If I wanted to know what my friends thought, I would ask them.  But when I go to the web looking to discover something new, I don't want to see more of the same.

Here's to universal search.  Without it, we may just have to trust journalists to cover both sides of the story.