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Mobile payments: maybe person-to-person is the way to go?

This post first appeared here but I made an update.

Every year seems to be the ‘year of mobile payments’ and 2015 is no exception. See hereherehere and here for this year’s crop of predictions.

Every pundit’s predictions seem to coalesce around two points:

1. Smartphones are more ubiquitous than ever

2. There have been small early wins for Apple Pay and their competitors PayPal in-store, Alipay, Coin, Current C, etc.

However, the ‘year of mobile payments’ has been predicted from as far back as 2008 and all the predictions seem to miss a fundamental point. The act of taking out a credit card or debit card and waving it in front of a machine is just as convenient, if not more so, than whipping out your phone, finding the right app, and waving it in front of a machine. The user experience is the same.

But here’s a market where mobile payments might catch on – person-to-person payments.

Your roommate’s name is on the utility bills. You can write a cheque to pay your share, which requires your roommate to remember to deposit into their bank account. You could send an email transfer, which requires effort to fill out and effort on your roommate’s part to receive. Or, you could send the money via mobile payment in one fell swoop while sitting in your living room.

You need to collect the team fees for your rec league soccer team. You can have everyone give you cheques or cash at the first game, or chase down individual email money transfers. Or, you can collect them all at once via mobile-to-mobile payment after you start the year 1-0.

You’re at a restaurant with a group of friends that won’t offer separate bills. You can all scrounge for cash, or put it all on one person’s credit card and have the others send that person a mobile payment on the spot.

As people continue to move away from cash and towards card-based payment, person-to-person payments are the likely growth area for mobile payment systems. Right now you can make person-to-person payments using email money transfer, PayPal Mobile, or a person-to-person payment app like Venmo (which is owned by PayPal), each with its own user experience quirks and fees. I’m not going to predict which technology solution will win but I do think we will eventually see a surge in mobile payments, just not necessarily by consumers to retailers in their stores.


OK I’ve thought of two user experiences where paying by phone is more convenient than your credit card:

  1. Parking: Here paying by cell phone takes away the inconvenience of having to walk to the machine get a ticket printed then walk back to your car to stick it on the dash. Mobile payments also allows you to extend the parking time without having to rush back to the car and put money into the machine.
  2. Uber: Self-explanatory.

OMG It’s a New Facebook!

Seven different reaction to Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement at the Facebook Developer’s Conference (aka F8).

1. The Apocalyptic: Facebook is taking over the world! Say goodbye to privacy forever!

2. The Neo-Luddite: Why is Facebook doing such a drastic change, I love Facebook as it is and I don’t want to have to learn something new. I’m also suspicious of all software updates.

3. The Pundit: Facebook’s new timeline and what it means for [insert career-group and/or field of study]

4. The Self-Help Post: So Facebook has this new timeline feature. Here’s how to use it…and protect yourself.

5. The Fan Boy: All hail the Zuck! Look how cool Facebook is! G-

6. The Pissed off Google Plus Fan Boy: Wow, Facebook is running out of ideas. They’re just stealing from Google Plus. BTW, I worship at the Church of Google.

7. The Pop-Culture Nut: “Likes” the Andy Samberg opening video.

8. The Mashup Artist: If Don Draper had Facebook Timeline

9. The Clueless Sharer: Your non-techie friend who knows nothing about Timeline but posted the Don Draper Facebook Timeline video because it was the beloved Mad Men Carousel scene.

10. The Social Media Curmudgeon: I told you Face-whatever was a waste of time

CSI: Facebook (and Tumblr, Twitter, etc.)

Last Wednesday the city of Vancouver was subject to a double tragedy. The Canucks, in a second bid to win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history, lost game 7. Followed by riots.

I lived in Vancouver for five years and have a great affinity to the city and it’s friendly people. It’s a shame that few bad apples have tarred the image of the city that, last year, hosted the world in the biggest winter show on earth. I’d like to think that this wouldn’t have happened had Team Canada lost the gold medal game.

Fortunately,  I’m heartened by the way the city has gotten together to make amends both in the clean up and in bringing the perpetrators to justice. And I’m intrigued by the method in which they’ve done this.

The clean-up was self-organized through several Facebook Pages .

And catching the perpetrators? There’s a Tumblelog collecting riot pictures and shocking ‘confessions’ (and by confessions I mean idiots bragging about what they did) on Facebook and Twitter. There’s also a Facebook Page to do the same. Those who can identify the faces can email the police at .

So mob mentality has given way to crowdsourced crime fighting. The question I have is whether the criminal justice system is ready for this. I’m no lawyer but I’ve watched enough Law and Order to know that there of rules of evidence and admissibility, and due process. Are existing laws adequate to cover the evidence gathering activities of our crime fighting citizenry? Are there any technicalities we lay people haven’t thought of that defense lawyers might use to help their clients? I’m asking because I want the perpetrators to answer for their crimes and I don’t want our efforts turned against us. Would love to hear from any legal experts.

Wiki Culture and the end of Practical Obscurity

I learned a new term the other day from Zeynep Tufekci, one that lawyers use to call information that is essentially accessible but not necessarily easily available…”practical obscurity”.

Think of all the Canadian government documents obtained through the freedom of information act. Yes, we’re free to obtain them but it can be a bit of a hassle to do so. As a result, only a fraction of the documents available through the act are actually obtained or disseminated. But wiki culture is changing that. Wikileaks is opening up our diplomatic cables and corporate files and Wikipedia has become the go to source for settling trivia arguments.

What else has digital technology freed from practical obscurity?

Municipal Tax Dollars at Work Part 2

Driving back from a client meeting to the office and this joker is stopped in a no stopping zone blocking traffic for miles. After my positive experience last time, I snapped a photo of the offender and @replied it to 311Toronto.

Car Blocking Traffic on Avenue Road and Bloor

Here was their reply back. Nice going Toronto Police for snatching up @TrafficServices

Not a Great Year for the TTC

Toronto Transit Commission, this just isn’t your year. Transit City gave this city’s residents hope of finally getting an infrastructure worthy of the “world class” adjective. Then came the fare hikes only to be followed by a major rush hour subway closure and then this picture starts circulating around the net.

TTC tracks on St. Clair

I googled this a few ways but have have yet to see any official response (feel free to post a link in the comments if you do). This is the social media amplification effect at work. Public transit is under public scrutiny. Public engagement will go a long way to earn the public trust.

One thing I’d like clarified as I have also not been able to find an answer. Will we see a commensurate tax credit increase (for metropass purchases) to go along with the fare increase? People will still be pissed about the fare hikes but at least mentioning the credit might have taken a little of the edge off…a little bit.

How “normal” is Normal Distribution?

With so much talk in the past half-decade about “the Long Tail” it got me thinking about that other popular curve, “the bell curve”. In school, some classes were graded on a bell curve in order to “normalize” the marks across the student body, afterall, it’s called “normal distribution”.

But after seeing so much of the power law distribution long tail in action, from Pareto’s findings to countless examples in biology and physics, I’m wondering if grading according to the bell curve is more rooted in our sense of “fairness” than in reality. I’m sure there’s a sound statistical reason for it and I invite anyone to illuminate that for me.

In the meantime, I’m asking myself: Is normal distribution really normal?

Why Authors Rarely Give Each Other Bad Reviews

I was a rather shocked when I read Malcolm Gladwell’s scathing review of Chris Anderson’s new book “Free: The Future of a Radical Price”, by way of Seth Godin’s defense of Chris. It’s not because Chris Anderson’s position is beyond reproach and isn’t open to debate, but because I’ve never seen a fellow author slam one of his own. When I tweeted this bewilderment, my friend Duane Brown reminded that “authors aren’t part of a gang”. For some reason, I remembered seeing a lot of quid pro quo among the writing community, particularly on the back covers of each others’ books. I wasn’t entirely right.

Looking through my library, I didn’t see a direct “You’re great, no you’re great” mutual gushes on each other’s back covers. There was, however, some quid pro quo on each other’s blogs and definitely a lot of gushing amongst best selling authors.

First, the quid pro quo:

Jeff Jarvis on Seth Godin on his blog Buzz Machine
Back in June, I wrote, inspired by some posts by Seth Godin, that small is the new big. Seth was similarly inspired by his own posts and wrote that small is the new big. Seth liked the line so much he used it as the title of his new book (and was nice enough to acknowledge the synchronicity). But now we both get beat to print by Inc magazine’s cover this month.

Seth Godin on Jeff Jarvis’ What Would Google Do?
Wait. Stop. In your hands you hold a rare thing, the work of a genuine visionary, someone willing to regularly and aggressively challenge the status quo. Five years from now, many people are going to regret the fact that they didn’t read this book today, when they had the chance. Don’t make that mistake. Google wouldn’t.”

Now all these books are great reads, but here comes the gushing:

Seth Godin on Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff’s Groundswell
Groundswell is jammed with big ideas, useful stories, and quotable stats. This is the new industrial revolution. Are you on board?”

Seth on Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness with another Malcolm compliment
“This is a brilliant book, a useful book, and a book that could quite possibly change the way you look at just about everything. And as a bonus, Gilbert writes like a cross between Malcolm Gladwell and David Sedaris.”

Malcolm Gladwell on Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner’s Freakonomics
Steven Levitt has the most interesting mind in America, and reading Freakonomics is like going for a leisurely walk with him on a sunny summer day, as he waves his fingers in the air and turns everything you once thought to be true inside out. Prepare to be dazzled.

Malcolm Gladwell on James Surowieki’s The Wisdom of Crowds
The Wisdom of Crowds” is dazzling. It is one of those books that will turn your world upside down. It’s an adventure story, a manifesto, and the most brilliant book on business, society, and everyday life that I’ve read in years.

I think if I had one more use of the word “dazzled”, I’d have a Jon Stewart bit.

Alan Cross mentioned on his show that the Beatles and Rolling Stones never released albums at the same time. I can’t remember the last time two blockbuster movies went head to head on opening weekend nor can I remember the last time two bestselling authors released a book at the same time. In the content industry, there’s always room for one more movie, book, album, play, etc. so it’s simply good business to space out release dates. It’s also probably also good for business to talk up your fellow artists; wouldn’t want to miss a potential collaborative opportunity.

So why the public spat between Malcolm, Seth, and Chris Anderson? Hmmm, maybe when you’re all guaranteed bestsellers, a little semi-scandalous debate is needed to generate hype. Works for Hollywood.

The 70-20-10 rule of marketing

For years, there was always a line in advertising (apart from the tagline) that separated mass media from everywhere else. Mass was above the line, everywhere else was below. Enough pundits have spent enough screen real-estate (ok I’m trying to come up with a more internet appropriate term to “spilled enough ink”) talking about the death of the line or the death of mass media and I don’t have much more to add to that subject here.

I would like to suggest an alternative for marketers as discussed with me by a former colleague:

70% of your budget should go to efforts with a fairly known ROI

20% of your budget should go to efforts that push the creative boundaries and have a lesser known or harder to callculate ROI

10% of your budget should go to purely experimental efforts

What do you think?

Why the NHL needs Jim Balsille

Last week’s court ordered setback on Jim Balsille’s quest for an NHL team is not just a disappointment to the city of Hamilton. It’s a disappointment for the NHL.

Believe it or not, Balsille’s experience with RIM might be the jolt the NHL needs. Let’s look back to the last time a tech guy bought a major sports franchise.

When serial tech-entrepreneur, Mark Cuban bought the Dallas Mavericks in 2000, the NBA was struggling to find its way in the post Michael Jordan era. Cuban brought a new energy and the best aspects of the dot-com thinking to the NBA. He sat amongst the fans in jeans and a sweater (or a Mavericks T-shirt) cheering with the rest of them. He encouraged fan participation giving out an email address (this was before Facebook) where he took suggestions (the 3-sided shot clock was one of the implemented ideas). He treated his players like high-tech employees outfitting their lockers with a flat-screen television, a DVD player, headphones, and a video game console. He did the same for the visiting team (after all they were potential recruits).

Now I’m not suggesting Balsillie will be like Cuban, the two men’s temperaments could not be more different. However, I do believe that Balsillie will bring some fresh tech-inspired ideas to the NHL at a time the NHL really needs it.