Why eBay's mobile chief loves them iPhones; eBay schools Yahoo on how to be interesting again

The other day I met with eBay’s mobile chief, Steve Yankovich. In the interview he starts out saying he loves iPhones “because it gets more traction.”

This is developer lock in front and central. eBay is one of the largest retailers in the world. They sell more shoes and clothing than Zappos/Amazon, for instance. So, if they are selling more stuff through iPhones then a raft of developers will continue putting their best developers on Apple’s platform.

You can even see this on Twitter/Facebook apps. I’m using Seesmic and, while it’s quite nice on Android, it runs faster and is more productive on the iPhone.

Listen to the 25-minute conversation with Yankovich and you’ll hear some other things eBay is seeing.

What? We’re decoupling our lives from the laptop or desktop computers. There are a new group of customers who are living almost their entire lives on their mobile phones.

We’re expecting to “try out” products online before we buy them. “Can we see the clothes on myself?” he asks.

I ask him if eBay will buy apps like RedLaser, that lets users with iPhones scan bar codes, or apps like CardStar, which let you hold retailer’s loyalty cards in your iPhone. He didn’t answer the question directly, but did lay out an interesting vision of where eBay will go with mobile in the future.

Around the world they see that there’s different things that matter to different regions. 50% of their mobile business is done outside the US. Emerging markets will eventually be almost all mobile, he says. “We gotta be there.” I talk about why Waze (a traffic app) is popular in Israel, but not popular in San Francisco. He riffs on that point and talks about how they’ll build different experiences around the world than they build for San Francisco.

I ask him whether he would like to buy Yelp or Foursquare, too. He answers that there’s so much to do with mobile to exploit what eBay already has before they get wild and go into totally different markets.

He’s bullish on tablets. “The iPad has been an eye opener for folks. People who are not early adopters are buying it,” he says.

At the end of the interview we talk about how eBay will use the higher resolution screens that are now shipping on high end smart phones like the EVO or the iPhone 4.

Check out his team’s work on the eBay.com/mobile site.



After I met with Yankovich, I went over and had an off-camera conversation with eBay’s CTO, Mark Carges. Now, if you have been following eBay you know they have gotten pretty damn boring in recent years. Worse, they really pissed off a lot of their most loyal users. My ex-wife is an eBay Power Seller and you should hear the stories she told me over the last couple of years of how anti-customer eBay was.

eBay was in a deep hole. Yahoo is in a similar hole. So much so that its CEO, Carol Bartz, is yelling at Mike Arrington, telling him to “f*** off” and give her more time to turn around the company (she did that on stage at the recent Techcrunch Disrupt conference).

So, how is eBay digging out? Ideation software from Spigit. If you don’t know what Spigit is, here’s an interview with Spigit’s CEO where we learn more about that company.

Now software alone doesn’t make a company more interesting.

But listen to what Carges and his new team (some of whom were hired away from Microsoft’s search team) are doing:

1. Focusing on innovation for the first time in a long time.
2. Empowering everyday employees to try things out.
3. Building systems that let employees work with customers to improve eBay.
3. Aspirational messaging to employees and to the press.

So, what does that mean?

When Carges got to eBay (he came from BEA, where he learned how important platforms are) one of the first things he did was look around for places that eBay’s employees could play around and try out “small” projects that would help customers. He found none. So, first thing he did was setup an “eBay garden” where developers could pitch something out and work with customers to find out whether they liked this idea or not, and if they did, how could they make it better.

Each new project there has a “Tell us what you think” link, which goes into a system so they can see what’s the most important thing that customers are saying. Developers need feature priorities. Here the customers themselves set the feature priorities and that also gets everyone onto a mission of making things better. It’s very empowering to hear that customers are actually using your code, Carges, told me and it alone motivates developers. I asked him whether he was compensating developers based on innovation. He told me that the customer feedback is a huge motivator alone, along with executive support. He always tries to provide aspirational messages when talking to employees. Knowing how to please the boss is, he told me, very important, and if executives don’t tell the world how they want to be pleased then things will get political and teams won’t focus on the right things.

So, watch for them on stage to always be talking about where the puck is moving. Notice that subtle shift in how Yanchovich is talking above. He’s willing to talk about where mobile is going. That’s a pretty sizable shift from the old eBay administration. Compare and contrast to Yahoo or Microsoft’s current administration.

Why does this matter to making a company more interesting?

Because it’s the small new projects that tell us how a company is changing to marketplace demands. We like talking about what’s new, not what’s already been built. eBay is boring because it’s a retailer that hasn’t shipped much new lately. That’s changing, look at the mobile page with its “new” or “updated” buttons under all those apps. That’s interesting.

Their garden has tons of interesting new apps. I’ll dig into a few over the next few months and get more interviews. Why? Because eBay has turned a corner and is doing interesting small things again.

I hope Yahoo and Microsoft take notes. I’d like to consider those companies interesting again someday.

The Twitter Death Sentence

Today Ray Slakinski was kicked off of Twitter (here he is in my house explaining what happened). He doesn’t know why. He was on Twitter since 2006 at http://twitter.com/rays .

This is reprehensible on Twitter’s part for three reasons.

1. He never got an email or other notification that Twitter was taking down the account.
2. He begged to Twitter, but got an automated reply back with no details as to when he’d get an answer.
3. He has gotten Twitter’s death sentence, but unlike if you get sentenced to death at San Quentin there is no appeals process. You don’t know why you are guilty and there’s no committee or intermediary you can appeal your death sentence to.

This is an outrageous amount of power to give any company.

Twitter and Facebook both do this and it is simply outrageous.

If there’s a case for government intervention in our industry this is it, not privacy.

Privacy is small potatoes compared to how these companies throw around their power.

UPDATE: RayS says he just got email from Twitter saying his account was suspended because it looked like he was trying to sell his name. He assures me he was not trying to sell his account. He said he joked a while ago after a baseball game about doing that, but it was just a joke. He’s had his account since 2006 and isn’t likely to sell his account.

@Delbius, at Twitter, answered:

@Scobleizer There was no appearance of any sort of joke and it’s a stated violation of the rules. He can respond to the tickets that I personally answered — not auto-responded to — if he’d like to argue his case. Thanks.

MY ANSWER TO DELBIUS and TWITTER: OK, but it is still OUTRAGEOUS that you give people a death sentence without sending them an email detailing what they did wrong and what they can do about it. They also have no appeals process. Ray says he’s not guilty. You say he is. In human life we have differences of opinions and we need to have a way to appeal these decisions or else you’ll piss someone off enough that they get government intervention. I really really despise how both Twitter and Facebook deal with people here. I get questions from my readers every day about death sentences on both services. GET A BETTER PROCESS!

UPDATE2: Ray’s account is now back up. But the process still sucks.

A really nasty trend: apps that write to Twitter or Facebook without user understanding/approval

Today I spammed my Twitter followers. I didn’t really know that I was doing that. And that pisses me off.

You’ve probably seen this kind of spam. It usually comes when someone you are following wins a mayor badge on Foursquare. Sometimes you don’t even realize it went out. How many people watch their outbound tweets very closely? I don’t.

But today I tried a new feature from Listorious that lets me answer questions from people who visit my Listorious page. I started answering the dozens of questions that both showed up from the service as well as from people who left questions there. I didn’t notice that the button said “reply and tweet.” Hey, do you read everything closely? Do you understand what that means? That it will shove that answer over to Twitter? I didn’t.

All of a sudden I was getting complaints from people who were getting spammed to death.


Then I went and tried to figure out how to turn it off. I couldn’t find a setting. Keep in mind, this is to answer questions left over on Listorious. Why was it spamming Twitter? Where was the off button? I finally went to Twitter’s connection page http://twitter.com/settings/connections and told it to not allow anything else from Listorious.

Listorious isn’t the only one that does this kind of stuff. Foursquare does it a lot. I can’t figure out how to turn off all Twittering on my Android app for Foursquare.

Hootsuite did it too. They forced you to send out a tweet simply to try a beta of one of their new versions (they don’t do that anymore, they tell me).

This stuff pisses me off. You should NEVER write to Twitter on my behalf without making it VERY clear that it’s about to do that.

But, somehow, I feel we’re about to see more apps that spam Twitter. It makes me itchy and far less likely to turn on connections to other apps like Twitter and Facebook.

Oh, and Twitter needs to add filtering to protect against this kind of spam. “Hide all Listorious messages” would be an awesome new feature for Twitter to add.

UPDATE: I called Gregory, who runs Listorious, and he said it was an honest mistake and that he didn’t think through the implications of turning that feature on. I told him that’s not good enough and that this feature really pissed me off. It took me from someone that was very evangelistic about his service to someone who has blocked his service within minutes.

Things Steve Jobs didn't say

Today I was listening not to what Steve Jobs said, but what he didn’t say.

There were two things that stood out in my mind.

1. I didn’t remember him talking about the Macintosh. I might have missed it, but I don’t think so.
2. I didn’t remember him talking about tethering.
3. I didn’t remember him talking about Apple TV.
4. I didn’t remember him talking about other carriers other than AT&T.

Why not? Well, that’s for the pundits to guess.

Me? When Steve Jobs doesn’t say something he knows he doesn’t have a good story. Is Apple moving away from the Macintosh? Is it fighting with AT&T about tethering? Is the hobby project of Apple TV struggling? These are all questions that are raised by what Steve Jobs didn’t say.

What about you? Did you pick up on anything else Steve Jobs didn’t say?

The bottom line: iPhone 4 vs. Android's best (does Nokia, Microsoft, RIM have a chance in getting into the game?)

So, since I haven’t carried an iPhone around with me for more than a week and I got an up and close look at the iPhone 4 today here’s my list of the pros and cons of iPhone 4 vs. the Sprint EVO or Verizon’s Incredible (the two best Android-based phones out there).

1. Screen quality. iPhone wins, but only slightly over the EVO.
2. Multitasking. All of them do it, but Apple’s system is a LOT easier to figure out and manage. That said, AT&T’s new data plan pricing has left a very bad taste in my mouth. I’m going to have to use the iPhone 4 for a month to see how much data I actually end up using now that I can do things like use Waze for traffic at the same time as playing music on Pandora, or watching live streaming videos from Ustream, etc. The iPhone should be miles ahead here, because of its superior OS, but is only slightly ahead because AT&T is dragging down the experience for me.
3. Battery life. HUGE win for the iPhone 4, which gives up to 40% longer talk times than the 3GS, which is already giving me at least 40% better battery life than the EVO.
4. Application choice and quality. A slight win for iPhone 4. Overall I like apps on the iPhone better and there definitely are more to choose from. 225,000 according to Steve Jobs today. But there are some apps on Android that are better. Google Voice and Google Maps are two of them, which are pretty dramatic. I keep getting complaints from developers about the Apple approval process, too.
5. Feel in pocket. iPhone 4 wins here. It’s thinner and since it’s glass on both sides more pocket compatible.
6. Voice quality. The EVO is a LOT better than the iPhone 3GS, but I wasn’t able to try it out today for a phone call, so we’ll need to wait until June 24th for that.
7. Sexiness. The iPhone 4 wins here big time.
8. Carriers. The iPhone 4 LOSES here big time. AT&T has dead zones where none exist on my routes around the San Francisco Bay Area on Sprint or Verizon.
9. Video and camera. The iPhone wins here by quite a bit. The focusing on the iPhone is better. The quality seems like it is better, but I’ll need to do a head-to-head after June 24th to really know that for sure. The video features are FAR superior on the iPhone, especially the new editing features. I will buy the iPhone for these features alone, so for a video geek like me these are a huge deal. My wife, though, uses the iPhone camera a lot more than I do (I have a pro camera, she doesn’t and she takes a lot of pictures of the kids), so it’ll be interesting to see what she does with this.
10. Video games. The iPhone is already ahead here by a long shot and with its new gyroscope we should see even more apps for the iPhone that are cool and now that Zynga is bringing its games to the iPhone Apple has widened its lead. Yeah, yeah, I’m sure all the haters will remind me it doesn’t play Flash games but, sorry, that train has left the station and isn’t coming back.
11. Tethering. The EVO lets you share your phone as a wifi hotspot and lets other devices use its data plan to get on the Internet. This is wildly cool and how I get my family’s iPads on the Internet when driving in the car. Apple didn’t say a thing about tethering today and I’m hearing rumors that the iPad won’t tether with the new iPhone. So, this is a major feature in the EVO camp. Plus, AT&T’s new data plan restrictions really bug me.
12. Synch and services. Here Android kicks Apple’s ass. The iPhone has to be physically plugged into a computer and connected to iPhone to synch it. With the EVO I never have connected it physically to a computer. I just entered my Gmail address and password and all my contacts, all of my calendar items, all of my email, and all of my applications just showed up. This is a MAJOR advantage to the Android system.

So, will I start using an iPhone again? Yes, but I have the luxury of being able to afford two devices and I’m definitely keeping the EVO if just for the tethering. If I could only afford one? I’d go with iPhone 4 over the EVO. Mostly because the OS is nicer to use (hard to explain all the ways this is so in a short post, so you’ll have to wait for a longer post after I get mine), the video features, and the battery life is dramatically better. But I totally understand why many of you will ignore those advantages because AT&T sucks so much. If voice quality is more important to you than all the toys, the nicer OS, or the video chat, then definitely go for the Sprint or the Verizon.

To the second part of this question. Does Nokia, MIcrosoft, or RIM have a chance to get into the game?

Well, let’s look at the strength’s of each company.

1. Nokia has a ton of market share in low-end markets. That still gives it a powerful voice brand to build off of. Will it matter in the high end game? I don’t think it will, but I’m sure I’ll have lots of Nokia employees telling me why it does.
2. Microsoft has the Xbox and their new phone is coming from the same team. Wired also explained how Microsoft’s Kin and a bunch of services give it a leg into the game. I don’t buy that horseradish, but I can see how many of you will.
3. RIM has the best keyboards and best integration with Microsoft Exchange (still). Corporate IT folks care about both of these. Even Mark Zuckerberg carries a Blackberry to do email on. Until Android matches the keyboard quality RIM is safe. The first Motorola Droid has a dreadful keyboard. Will the next one have a good enough keyboard to let RIM’ers switch? We’ll have to see.

Anyway, Apple is still on top of the mind share mountain and that’s a powerful place, indeed, to be. Look for Apple’s sales and profits to continue to go up. I’m buying three (one for Patrick, one for Maryam, and one for myself).

What do you think?

Steve Rubel's (and mine) favorite iPad apps

Steve Rubel came over the house on Friday (and so did my friend Luke Kilpatrick, who is a Palm Pre freak and does social media for VMWare) and he has already switched his business life to the iPad (he’s a senior vice president at Edelman PR, the largest independent PR firm in the world) and when we started talking iPad apps over dinner I knew this would be a fun way to look at a bunch of different apps. We spend an hour going through all our favorite iPad apps.

What iPad apps do you have that we missed?

Techcrunch Guest Post: Location 2012

Last week I wrote a guest post for Techcrunch titled “Location 2012.” I’m pretty proud of how it came out, based on a road trip I took last weekend with my family. Funny that since I wrote it a lot of companies who are working in the location space have been coming out of the woodwork. Plus I’ve caught even more rumors of what Apple and Google are up to, so I’ll keep tracking this story. I’ve even seen a stealth company that I can’t share yet (more later this week) that is working on pretty much exactly what I laid out.

MG Siegler, at Techcrunch, did the editing, and he made my piece tighter and better. He’s a real catch for Techcrunch. Arrington better hope he doesn’t get stolen away.

Anyway, I wanted to make sure you saw the post, some of you don’t read my Twitter stream and just follow me on an RSS reader, so it was worth pointing that out here.

What do you think? Are you working on location-based services to make this new world a reality? Let me know!