Lessons of History by Will & Ariel Durant
Omicron Journal
The World has Shifted
How The Quarantine is Changing You
China and Trump's Creative Destruction
Optimism 2008
The Bad in Email
The Good in Email
Google's Silent Monopoly
The Collaboration Myth

Lessons of History by Will & Ariel Durant
Key Excerpts from Will & Ariel Durant's "Lessons of History."

Their perspective is a unique version of Darwinism that embraces religion, hope and freedom of choice.

'The first biological lesson of history is that life is competition. Competition is not only the life of trade, it is the trade of life...’

‘The second biological lesson of history is that life is selection...Nature loves difference as the necessary material of selection and evolution...inequality is not only natural and inborn, it grows with the complexity of civilisation.’

‘...only the man who is below the average in economic ability desires equality; those who are conscious of superior ability desire freedom: and in the end superior ability has its way.’
‘Utopias of equality are biologically doomed, and the best that the amiable philosopher can hope for is an approximate equality of legal justice and educational opportunity.’

‘So the conservative who resists change is as valuable as the radical who proposes it...It is good that new ideas should be heard, for the sake of the few that can be used; but it is also good that new ideas should be compelled to go through the mill of objection...’

‘A little knowledge of history stresses the variability of moral codes, and concludes that they are negligible because they differ in time and place, and sometimes contradict each other. A larger knowledge stresses the universality of moral codes and concludes to their necessity.’

‘For since the natural inequality of men dooms many of us to poverty or defeat, some supernatural hope may be the sole alternative to despair. Destroy that hope, and class war is intensified...when religion declines Communism grows.’

"Profit motive is required to stir groups to productivity. Other means like slavery, police supervision, or ideological enthusiasm prove unproductive, expensive, or transient."

"History is a cycle of wealth accumulation by the strong/smart and eventual concentration to the few where a tipping point ends in either revolution or redistribution"

“Men who can manage men manage the men who can manage only things, and the men who can manage money manage all.”

Omicron Journal
Below is my daily summary of news and headlines that I collected during the most recent and hopefully last wave of COVID. I started this "journal" on November 25, 2021 when the early news and reports of Omicron were coming out of South Africa. Its shocking to see the alarm and hype and panic grow over the course of just a month - as well as the extreme reactions taken by governments, schools and experts while the virus rages throughout our society - no matter what we do.

A good story of humility for us all.

I decided to stop updating this journal because it is obvious that the virus is well on its way to endemnicy. January will likely have a spike in cases and possibly hospitalizations but deaths are not likely to spike commensurately with cases as it did in the past. When the virus penetrated the Antarctica even after every precaution was taken - I knew it was time to end this journal.

Polar researchers in remote Antarctica have fallen victim to coronavirus, despite taking strict health precautions, being fully vaccinated and miles from civilisation.

Two thirds of the 25 staff based in Belgium's Princess Elisabeth Polar Station have caught Covid, the Le Soir newspaper reported, proving there is no escape from the global pandemic.

The Omicron outbreak happened despite all staff passing multiple PCR tests, quarantining and living in one of the most remote places in the world.
All 25 researchers were fully vaccinated and one had a booster shot. Before leaving for the station, they underwent a PCR test in Belgium two hours before flying to South Africa.

In South Africa, they quarantined for 10 days and took another PCR test. A further test was needed when leaving Cape Town for Antarctica and a final one five days after that.

One person tested positive seven days after arriving at the station on December 14. The person was isolated but tests revealed two others had caught the virus. The three were evacuated on December 23 but the virus has continued to spread.

Netherlands plans to inject people with "up to six doses" of COVID vaccine - Health Minister (Newsweek)

FDA: Rapid Antigen Tests May Be Less Effective at Detecting OmicronCDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walesnky said while antigen tests may not perform as well as it did for other variants, "it's still picking up quite a bit of infection" and the agency encourages its use.
Rapid antigen tests may be less sensitive at detecting the highly contagious omicron variant and could lead to results that are "false negative," the Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday.

The newly updated CDC guidelines don't require testing at the end of isolation because PCR tests can stay positive for up to 12 weeks, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. "So we would have people in isolation for a very long time if we were relying on PCRs," Walensky said.

FDA is looking at "booster" injections for 12-15 year olds. Decision in the "days to weeks ahead," CDC Director says.

Chairman of the left-wing party "Die Linke," Dietmar Bartsch, calls for an end to the "panic mode" regarding Covid in Germany. Demands investment in the healthcare system instead of compulsory vaccination.
schools are cancelled for in person in CA in early 2022 but the Super Bowl happens with 70k+ people in attendance.

Austin-Travis County is returning to Stage 4 of the COVID-19 risk-based guidelines.

Vaccine Mandate For Domestic Flights Not Being Considered, Says CDC Director After Fauci's Proposal
WHO warns new Covid variants could emerge that are fully resistant to vaccines as pandemic drags on.

Tedros also slammed the “populism” and “short-term nationalism” of some political leaders that he said has “undermined equity and created the ideal conditions for the emergence of new variants.”
Florida Surgeon General says Biden Admin is "actively preventing" distribution of monoclonal antibodies by pausing shipments of Regeneron, in letter to HHS Sec. Feds paused Regeneron bc it may not work against Omicron. FL says it can still be used in existing Delta cases.

Spain cuts COVID-19 isolation to seven days from 10.

“It really had a lot to do with what we thought people would be able to tolerate,” CDC Director Walensky says on why the CDC shortened the isolation period from 10 days to 5 days if you’re asymptomatic.

This study shows that after three months the vaccine effectiveness of Pfizer & Moderna against Omicron is actually negative. Pfizer customers are 76.5% more likely and Moderna customers are 39.3% more likely to be infected than unvaxxed people. Source
Quebec orders 10 p.m. curfew, punishable by fines up to $6,000, as COVID cases reach record-high.

"Many of them are actually coming in for another reason. But they happen to be tested when they come in and they're found incidentally to have COVID"

While cases continue to rise, deaths remain low. This entire pandemic is essentially over.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention significantly revised its model of the breakdown of Covid-19 variants on Tuesday, estimating the Omicron strain accounted for about 58.6 percent of U.S. cases as of Dec. 25.

The public health agency’s previous estimate that the rapidly spreading variant accounted for 73.2 percent of cases nationwide on Dec. 18 is now revised down to 22.5 percent — a significant drop that falls outside the agency's earlier 95 percent prediction interval.

Child Covid hospitalizations are up, especially in 5 states Children have been hospitalized at nearly twice the rate of adults in the past 4 weeks, an NBC News data analysis shows. In the last four weeks, the average number of children hospitalized with Covid-19 jumped 52 percent, from a low of 1,270 on Nov. 29 to 1,933 on Sunday. In the same time period, adult Covid hospitalizations increased 29 percent, suggesting that pediatric hospitalizations rose at nearly twice the rate. The number of kids hospitalized with Covid has more than doubled in 10 states, as well as in Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, according to the analysis. However, he said, his hospital has seen a lot of kids test positive for Covid without necessarily showing symptoms or getting sick.

"We test anybody who’s admitted to the hospital for whatever reason to see whether or not they have Covid, and we’re definitely seeing an increase in cases.

However, we’re really not seeing an increase in children who are hospitalized for Covid or in the intensive care unit for Covid," Offit said. "We saw similar things happen when the delta variant came along," he said. "We had taken for granted that children were relatively under-affected by Covid, and we saw an uptick in the number of children infected and therefore admitted to the hospital with complications."

CDC recommends shorter COVID quarantine for asymptomatic people from 10-14 days down to 5 days. There is a letter circulating from the Delta Airlines CEO to the CDC urging them to lower the isolation period as it negatively impacts their business.

Biden says he agrees with GOP governors: There's 'no federal solution' to pandemic.

Fauci wants to “seriously” consider vaccine mandate for domestic flights.

As Israel weighs whether to approve a fourth Covid vaccine dose, some scientists warn that too many shots might actually harm the body’s ability to fight the coronavirus. "The presentation, obtained by The Times, showed a doubling of the rate of infection from Delta among the 60-plus age group within four or five months of the third shot. There was no clear indication of reduced efficacy against severe illness."

"A new British report shows that booster doses are less effective against Omicron than previous variants, and their effectiveness wears off faster — within 10 weeks."

On a net basis, nearly a million people who called Blue states home in early 2020, now call Red states home. CA, NY, IL biggest losses. FL, TX, AZ biggest gains.

Albert Bourla of Pfizer is the CNN CEO of the Year.

NYT editor Carlos Tejada died of a heart attack at 49 one day after receiving booster shot.

Per the CDC, 63.1% of Black people in this country are not fully vaccinated.

UK Now Reports Myocarditis stratified by Age & Sex

After Vaccine Or Sars-cov-2Nature Medicine paper revisited: And it is shocking:....this analysis lumps together men & women, while men have the greatest risk. Well, the authors are back with a new pre-print to fix this point, and here is what they find.
It is now clear for men <40, dose 2 and dose 3 of Pfizer have more myocarditis than sars-cov-2 infection, and this is true for dose 1 and dose 2 of Moderna.

Pfizer boosters (Dose 3) have more myocarditis for men <40 than infection.

Myocarditis post infection is more common as you get older, in contrast with myocarditis post vaccination, which is more common as you are younger (reverse gradients)

But the truth is STILL WORSE than these data.
If the authors fixed the denominator for viral infection (i.e. used sero-prevalance), it would look even worse

If the authors separate men 16-24 from 12-15 and 25-40, it would likely look worst in 16-24 age group.

And here is why it matters:
There is marked uncertainty as to whether dose 3’s actually lowers severe outcomes & hospitalizations in young men. The FDA is making a huge regulatory gamble with boosters, and they are cheered on by many who are not adept at data analysis.

Boosting 16-40 yo men might not be in their best interest (it might be net detrimental). We simply do not know with confidence. If it is revealed that it is not in their best interest, this administration will have dropped a nuclear bomb on vaccine confidence for 20 years. God help us all.

We could have spaced out dose 2 in young men, or considered omitting it entirely, as some colleagues and I have been saying since June, in an effort to capture most of the gains and eliminate most of the harms of vaccination. This can still be done for Pfizer.

“The Health Ministry has decided that Israel will not begin offering 4th doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from Sunday as planned for Israelis >60 &others at risk Israel delays rollout of 4th COVID shots amid signs Omicron less severe report Vermonters who are able to find antigen tests and then test positive are clogging up emergency rooms.

The emergency department at the Rutland Regional Medical Center has been overwhelmed with asymptomatic folks.

Dr. Rick Hildebrant is RRMC’s medical director. He says some people who test positive with a rapid test go to the emergency room looking for a PCR test.
A NY Times editor has died of a heart attack at 49, one day after receiving a Moderna Covid “booster” shot. Carlos Tejada was married and had two children; he spent his career at the Wall Street Journal before joining the Times in 2016. In July, he received a Johnson & Johnson DNA/AAV Covid vaccine. He was thankful to get it, per his Instagram page. On Dec. 16, in Seoul, South Korea, he received a Moderna mRNA/LNP “booster.” No clinical trials have ever been conducted to examine the safety or efficacy of mixing various types of these vaccines, and Carlos did not give informed consent, as the consent form was in Korean, a language he could not read. He joked that Omicron should “hit me with your wet snot.”

Suddenly, "they" care about the difference between "of covid" and "with covid"w/ more + tests in pts w/ mild disease, a new data interpretation issue rears its head: More hospital pts who HAVE Covid (+ test) but aren't here FOR Covid. Yet they'll prob. be counted in Covid hospital #'s. Another thing that may make severity look worse than it is.

South Africa cancels contact tracing and quarantining, and pivots to mitigation.

Britain is considering the rollout of a fourth round of vaccinations against Covid-19. People with weakened immune systems are already entitled to a fourth jab but the roll out could be extended to the elderly and other vulnerable groups in the UK. Any extra dose would be likely administered at least four months after the first booster, meaning the fourth jab - should it get the go ahead - could be available as early as the new year.

Omicron up to 70% less likely to cause hospitalization than delta variant, UK government study finds.
Biden to Lift Travel Ban on Southern African Countries.

"This is preexisting Supreme Court precedent on vaccine mandates. The Court wrote that it is the power of a STATE to do so. The Constitution gives police & health powers to STATES not the Federal government. To rule otherwise tramples the Constitution. Biden can’t impose it." - Texas Governor Greg Abbott

CDC changed guides for Healthcare workers with COVID-19 who are asymptomatic. They can return to work after 7 days with a negative test, and that isolation time can be cut further if there are staffing shortages. Healthcare workers who have received all recommended COVID-19 vaccine doses, including a booster, do not need to quarantine at home following high-risk exposures.

“VE (Vaccine Effectiveness) against Omicron was 55.2% initially following primary BNT162b2 (Pfizer) vaccination, but waned quickly thereafter. Although estimated with less precision, VE against Omicron after primary mRNA-1273 (Moderna) vaccination similarly indicated a rapid decline in protection. By comparison, both vaccines showed higher, longer-lasting protection against Delta.”

"Don't wear a cloth mask. Cloth masks are little more than facial decorations." – CNN's Dr. Leana Wen.

The Supreme Court of the United States has agreed to hear legal challenges to the Biden Admins vaccine mandate for large employers and healthcare workers. Oral arguments begin January 7th.

WHO says vaccine booster programs will prolong Covid crisis: ‘No country can boost its way out of the pandemic.’

More than half or 128 out of 238 Covid-attributed deaths last week in Illinois were fully vaccinated people.

Austria overtakes Sweden today in deaths per capita for 56th place globally, despite inflicting multiple destructive, divisive lockdowns, masks and vax passports on its people.

Washington University School of Medicine RELEASES DATA after you had COVID “we found antibody-producing cells in people 11 months after first symptoms. These cells will live & produce antibodies for the REST OF PEOPLE’s LIVES. That’s strong evidence for long-lasting immunity.”


Omicron is 50-70% LESS likely to result in hospitalisation than Delta early data shows - U.K. Health Agency

Fourth COVID-19 shot may be needed, German health minister says

NYC’s outdoor New Year’s Eve party will have a mask mandate, a strict capacity limit, and a Covid vaccine requirement that assigns Police to check people’s vaccination status on public streets.

This study shows that after three months the vaccine effectiveness of Pfizer & Moderna against Omicron is actually negative. Pfizer customers are 76.5% more likely and Moderna customers are 39.3% more likely to be infected than unvaxxed people. Here is the Link to the Study.

Senator Feinstein (and others) urging the CDC and FAA to start requiring proof of vaccination or a negative test for all domestic flights.

The 11th Circuit has refused to stay the nationwide injunction blocking the contractor mandate from going into effect. In plain English: good news, if you're a contractor in the US, the vaccine mandate is not in effect.

The Supreme Court has asked the Biden admin to respond to an emergency petition challenging the 6th Circuit's dissolution of the stay of the OSHA mandate. This doesn't mean the Court will necessarily hear the case, but that it asked for briefing is a somewhat hopeful sign.

Israel to offer fourth coronavirus vaccine dose to over-60s.

Austria is looking for employees who hunt down vaccine refusers.

Biden addressed the nation today to talk about his Winter Covid Plan. His speech was just him urging everyone to get vaccinated over and over again. If not that, then it was a prod to get boosted and to get your kids vaccinated. He also announced that the gov't will be mailing out 500 million test kits to everyone for free. He also announced that 1,000 military medical doctors will be helping hospitals across the country.

The truth is that Omicron is not that big of a deal. Its a weaker strain than Delta but everyone is in a panic. A Texas died today in Houston, but he was unvaccinated and had underlying issues already. The fear is on.

Stock market futures are lower on a global panic around Omicron.

In a press briefing on 12/16 the President said, "For unvaccinated, we are looking at a winter of severe illness and death — if you’re unvaccinated — for themselves, their families, and the hospitals they’ll soon overwhelm." What an incredibly evil thing to say to Americans a week before Christmas. Whos is writing this stuff for him?

NIH Director Collins is warning that the US could reach one million COVID cases a day during the current surge.

German govt to restrict private gatherings of vaccinated and recovered to 10 people max.

Netherlands instituted an 8pm curfew for the entire country.

Covid vaccines clearly less effective against Omicron, says EMA Head.

Boston bans unvaccinated people from indoor dining, indoor fitness, and indoor entertainment
Mayor Bowser declares state of emergency in Washington DC; indoor mask mandates are back beginning tomorrow 6am - January 31st. All Govt, employees must now be vaccinated + booster, no option to test.

A judge ruled against the San Diego Unified School District Monday in a lawsuit challenging its vaccine mandate for students.

San Diego Superior Court Judge John Meyer said the district's mandate, which does not permit religious or personal belief exemptions, contradicts state law, because implementing such mandates without exemptions can only be imposed by the state legislature.

Meyer also said that while students are required to receive some vaccinations in order to attend in-person school, adding COVID-19 to the list of required vaccinations without allowing personal belief exemptions is another area that lies only with the state.

The World Health Organization has recommended canceling holiday events.

CDC estimates 73% of new coronavirus cases in the U.S. are caused by the Omicron variant, up from 3% last week Pro sports teams — including the Celtics, Bruins — will be exempt from Boston’s indoor vaccine mandate

Netherlands goes into a full lockdown tonight and New York City is announcing that they will increase the definition of Fully Vaccinated to include three shots instead of two.

All the while, data from UK and South Africa is showing that the five most common symptoms of Omicron are: Runny Nose, Sneezing, Fatigue, Headache and Sore/Scratchy Throat. That there is the definition of the common cold folks. In UK, there are only 65 people in the hospital with Omicron.

Pfizer says it is now testing three doses of its COVID-19 vaccine in babies and preschoolers after the usual two shots didn’t appear strong enough for some of the children.

Ontario's top doctor advises against seeing your triple vaccinated grandparent if you're double vaccinated.

CDC recommends mRNA shots instead of Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccine due to blood clot risk.

SNL talks about canceling tonight's show because everyone is fearful.

What seems like a turning point, the NFL announced today that they will stop COVID testing asymptomatic, vaccinated players.

The 6th Federal court overturned the 5th Court's overruling of the OSHA vaccine mandate. It will likely end up going to SCOTUS.

Biden announced that he will be addressing the nation on Tuesday to discuss Omicron and a "stark winter for the unvaccinated."

Biden issues grim warning of a 'winter of illness and death' for the unvaccinated.

A new study out of Columbia University says the Omicron variant is “markedly resistant” to vaccines and boosters might not do much to help, spelling bad news for the country as Omicron spreads and COVID-19 cases rise nationally.

“A striking feature of this variant is the large number of spike mutations that pose a threat to the efficacy of current COVID-19 vaccines and antibody therapies,” according to the study authored by more than 20 scientists at Columbia and the University of Hong Kong.

On today's investor call Pfizer said that it expects Covid to transition to an endemic phase in 2024. They als0 expect $31 billion in vaccine sales in 2022.
Boeing announced that it will drop its vaccine mandate for employees today.

Ontario (Canada) will cut capacity for all indoor settings down to 50%, eliminate food and drink at all concerts, sports venues, movie theatres, slash social gatherings to 10 max -- starting this Saturday.
More adults between 18 and 45 died of fentanyl overdoses in 2020 than COVID-19, motor vehicle accidents, cancer and suicide.

More Ivy League students have died from suicide than from Covd-19 since March 2020.

France to block British tourists amid rise in UK Omicron case.

The Irish cabinet has agreed on an 8pm curfew.

France's PM Jean Castex announces law to transform the "health pass" (vaccinated, recovered, tested) into a "vaccination only-pass" to "put stress on the unvaccinated." Vaccine Passport /Green Pass, now excludes the recovered and the tested. Because it’s a punishment for those who won’t comply and not about keeping anyone safe.

Outbreak Management Team recommends "strict lockdown" in the Netherlands to slow the spread of Omicron.

England considering two-week "circuit breaker" lockdown to slow the spread of coronavirus, according to The Times.

Quebec’s Premier just scheduled an emergency press conference tonight to announce new restrictions because of the Omicron variant.

Governor Newsom in California explained the recent mask mandate is because, of the 48 Omicron cases identified in CA, "the overwhelming majority have been fully vaccinated. That's why masking becomes even more important in this environment."

A Canadian molecular biologist, on Wednesday, told cross-party members of Parliament (MPs) on the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee that a leak from a laboratory in Wuhan region of China is now the more likely origin of the Covid-19 global pandemic.

"We know now that this virus has a very unique feature, called the furin cleavage site that makes it the pandemic pathogen it is. So, without this feature, there is no way this would be causing this pandemic." Only recently in September did a proposal get leaked showing that scientists from the EcoHealth Alliance were in collaboration with the Wuhan Institute of Virology developing this pipeline for inserting novel furin cleavage sites, these genetic modifications, into SARS-like viruses in the lab."

CDC issues grim forecast warning that weekly COVID cases will jump by 55% to 1.3 MILLION by Christmas Day and that deaths will surge by 73% to 15,600 a week as Omicron becomes dominant strain.

Fauci warns Omicron cases are DOUBLING every three days: Experts say it's just the tip of the iceberg and US will be hit with 'perfect storm' of new variant, Delta AND seasonal flu that will overwhelm hospitals.
Army prepares to ax 3,800 soldiers - 2% of total - for refusing to get the COVID vaccine after Air Force became first branch of US military to fire 27 service members for rejecting the jab.

Study claims ultra-infectious Omicron variant replicates in airways 70 TIMES quicker than Delta... but it slows down when it reaches the lungs in more proof it may be milder.

Pfizer's covid19 antiviral pill shows same 89% reduction in risk of hospitalization/death in high-risk patients in final results. FDA wanted to see final results before EUA. New data in standard-risk unvax'd + high-risk vax'd adults showed 70% lower hospitalization risk.

Pfizer Will Dominate $20 Billion Covid-Pill Market in 2022.

Israel is about to approve the 4th booster. Meaning the unvaccinated are those with only 3. Vaccine passports revoked until you comply.

Stanford will start its winter quarter with two weeks of online instruction, citing rising COVID-19 cases across the country and outbreaks on other university campuses.

Europe face a dire winter as nuclear outages in France put the continent’s energy market near a breaking point.

New research suggests that existing COVID-19 vaccines may be less effective in fighting the Omicron variant than previous strains of the virus, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) said Wednesday (today).

European CDC says a "rapid increase in Omicron cases is imminent," warns that exponential growth will "rapidly outweigh any benefits" of a potentially reduced severity.

French President Macron said that COVID vaccines will possibly be made mandatory in France.

California population on the decline. “38% decrease in the number of new arrivals between March 2020 and September of this year. The number of new arrivals declined in all of the state’s 58 counties.”

George Washington University is joining Princeton, Cornell and NYU by canceling all events and moving exams online. All three schools are mandating vaccines and requiring masks at all times indoors. Cornell University reports over 900 COVID cases this week, VP for University Relations Joel Malina says "virtually every" case has been found in fully-vaccinated students, many of whom received the booster shot.

NYU announced mandatory third injection (Booster) due to Omicron. As of January 18th, students with two shots will be deemed un-vaccinated.

In corporate news, Apple delays their corporate office return to a "date yet to be determined."
Pfizer set to acquire Arena Pharmaceuticals, a company that specializes in treatments for cardiovascular issues and autoimmune disorders Israel extends border closure until December 29 due to Omicron

Israel planning attack on Iran, as announced by Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz at a meeting with U.S. officials. The American officials reportedly did not voice opposition according to The Jerusalem Post.

The oppression continues. California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a statewide indoor mask mandate from December 15 - January 15. If you’re unvaccinated & want to attend a mega event (1,000 plus people), you must show a negative antigen test within 1 day of the event or a negative PCR test within 2 days. Cornell University, with 100% vaccination compliance, had a COVID outbreak of more than 38 cases and they locked down the entire school. George Washington University is requiring proof of the booster shot by March or students will not be allowed to register for summer and fall semester.

Kroger announced that the non-unioned, unvaccinated employees will be charged a surcharge on their health insurance.

U.S. passenger railroad Amtrak said on Tuesday it will temporarily suspend a vaccine mandate for employees and now no longer expects to be forced to cut some service in January.

The recent Joe Rogan podcast with Dr. Peter McCullough is getting a lot of heat and controversy. The promotional clips have all been removed from Youtube for "violating community guidelines."

In spite of a flurry of news that the Omicron variant is significantly milder than Delta or the original strain of COVID-19 governments and media continue to drive the fear machine. In Britain, there is a plan to require the Booster Shot to be considered "fully vaccinated." There are inconsistent rules that require vaccination status to enter a pub/bar but not for a restaurant and only in the evenings? Ireland and Britain are filled with such inconsistencies. The media is reporting the first Omicron death in Britain - although there are no details as to the age, health or vaccination status of the person who died.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia is following New York City, children ages 5 to 11 will only need to show proof of one shot by Jan. 3, but would need to complete the vaccination series by Feb. 3. There certainly appears to be fractured society around Blue Cities that will require such requirements while smaller cities and town and entire States will not require anything. Speaking of New York, the governor announced that New Yorkers will need to wear a mask in all indoor public spaces unless businesses implement a vaccine requirement.

An interesting details that hasn't been discussed very much is that the US banned travel from South Africa and several other African countries when the Omicron variant was first announced the day after Thanksgiving. Never mind that some of the countries on that list didn't even have any Omicron cases yet and why haven't we banned travel from all of the other countries where Omicron is rampant (UK, EU, etc.)? Another example of inconsistency.

Inflation was announced today at 6.8%, the highest level in over 40 years. This announcement follows the reveal that the White House had "secret meetings" with journalists and media folks in attempt to gain more positive press about the economy. Perhaps it was only coincidental that Jim Cramer was roaring just yesterday how he believes that this is the strongest economy that he has ever seen in his entire life. Can you believe he said that? The good news is that this high number perhaps represents a peak in inflation? Either way - the stock market didn't seem to react at all to the news - its a very tepid day. Meanwhile, in the UK, media is reporting an "Omicron tsunami" and are using the fear as an excuse to lockdown and crackdown on people. They are drawing up "Plan C" to enforce even more restrictions such as limiting visitors to homes. Never mind that Omicron appears to be a very weak strain of the virus.

While the CEOs hit the media circuit to talk about the efficacy of the vaccines - no one seemed to be talking about the fact that their early research is all based on synthetic viruses that they created in a lab.

Country's and Cities continue to use Omicron as an excuse to crack down even harder than ever. Video footage from Germany shows police pepper spraying, shoving and violently arresting old people that are either trying to shop or protest. Either way - the video footage is disturbing to see in Germany.

Everyone seems to be following orders.

Less news about the lethality or "horrific" nature of Omicron today. Instead, the media is happy to report that Pfizer/BioNTech both said that their booster shot provides a high level of protection against Omicron variant in initial lab study. (yes, you read that right, in a lab study). They are saying that the booster shot increases antibody protection 25-fold compared with the initial two-dose series (according to a preliminary lab study). The third shot shows the virus-fighting abilities comparable with the protection provided by two doses against the original strain of the virus. (no primary sources are linked or available anywhere as far as I could tell).

The BioNTech CEO stated in a press conference that "the vaccine for the Omicron variant should be a "3-dose vaccine." It is unclear if he meant 3-dose vaccine in total (including initial doses, etc.), or if he was referring specifically to the 'still to com' Omicron vaccine. Oddly, the Pfizer CEO (Bourla) said that “At a certain point I think we will need a fourth dose,” he told CNBC.

Reports of the Omicron variant spreading quickly throughout South Africa and Europe continue to ring the alarm but the real story is that hospitalizations remain low. Hospitalizations are not moving up commensurately with cases. This is good news but the media continues to scare the public and use the Omicron variant as an excuse to exercise more stringent mandates.

A Federal Judge in Georgia halted the vaccine mandate for federal contractors across the entire country. The Judge's ruling applies to the all federal contractors in all states in the US. Prior rulings were for individual states. “...in times of crisis this Court must preserve the rule of law and ensure that all branches of government act within the bounds of their constitutionally granted authorities.”In total, rulings have overturned mandates on private businesses, health care workers and federal contractors. Men and Boys aged 12 to 29 should no longer take Moderna Vaccine, Says National Advisory Committee on Immunization in Canada.

While much of the news is reporting that the Omicron variant is very mild and much like the common cold NYC announced draconian mandates that will impact young children and private employers. Starting December 27, 2021, Mayor de Blasio announced a vaccine mandate for all private-sector employers in NYC (with no testing opt-out). Additionally, vaccination proof will be required for all 5-11 year olds for indoor dining, fitness gyms and entertainment (theatres, etc). The minimum dosage requirements to be considered vaccinated is now 2 doses instead of 1. Again, the real question is how will these measure be enforced? Will there be random police checks? In Austria, it was formally announced that beginning February 15, 2022, everyone will be required to be vaccinated. Those that fail to comply by March 15, 2022 will be fined 600 Euros every 3 months for a maximum penalty of 3,600 euros. Failure to pay the fines will result in a prison sentence. The only good news about Austria and Germany is that they do recognized natural immunity - but only for a fixed period of time (6 months I believe). What are the vaccine requirements after the six month period?In the face of the actual GOOD NEWS that Omicron results in milder disease (even if transmission is higher) should result in LESS stringent mandates and requirements rather than INCREASED mandates, edicts and laws.

Today, the stock market has been aggressively moving up - likely in light of the news that Omicron is mild, as well as the Fed's announcement that inflation is more than just transitory. When faced with inflation headwinds, stocks (specifically tech stocks) have been the goto investment vehicle to offset and outgrow the rate of inflation.

Still mixed messages about Omicron over the weekend with a full media blitz saying that the cases are mild in the vaccinated (even the boosted) cases so go get your booster. Odd how they leave out the data on the unvaccinated. Are the cases mild because of the vaccinations or are they mild because the variant is mild? The overall trend of Omicron appears to be more contagious (exactly how much more contagious is still unknown but seems higher than Delta) but significantly more mild without any hospitalizations that I've heard about. Hospitals across the country continue to drop vaccine mandates (the last I heard about was the largest hospital system in Florida). The tide seems to be turning but the media hype continues to blare.

From the looks of it, we are all likely to eventually get exposed to Omicron much like we are exposed to the common cold. The world's reaction to these mild cases will continue to leave the stock market choppy, I suspect.

Mixed messages continue around the world about Omicron. Depending on who you are listening to at the moment the efficacy of the vaccines are either good or terrible. Pfizer announced that they likely wouldn't be able to start producing an Omicron specific vaccine until March 2022. South African stock market hasn't reacted negatively to Omicron nor rising cases - in fact, their market is up 6% over the last month.

Germany announced that they will lockdown the unvaccinated from non-essential venues (restaurants, theatres, etc). Austria did this for ten days and then expanded it to all citizens (whether vaccinated or not). Austria announced fines of up to 3,600 Euros for avoiding vaccination (everyone). Germany also announced an expansion of it vaccine mandates. I don't think its a coincidence that the strictest and most draconian mandates are coming from Austria and Germany first. Oddly, the Austrian Chancellor (Schallenberg) announced his resignation today. Kurz also announced resignation from the People's Party.

Strange things are brewing in Deutscheland. UK also announced stricter quarantine and contact tracing for all international travelers into the UK (that includes getting pinged on your phone to see if you are obeying the quarantine - otherwise you could be fined up to 10,000 pounds) - through March 24, 2022.

Here in the States, Biden announced stricter testing for international travelers (but no quarantines) and masks on public transportation through March 2022. This is never going to end.

The narrative shifts again. Today, the markets are soaring back after a down day yesterday - mostly based on news that the Omicron variant is milder than expected. The World Health Organization claims that most cases are 'mild' or show no symptoms at all and that existing vaccines should provide protection against hospitalization and death. The flip-flop nature of the narrative was reinforced this morning when Moderna suggested that a "double-boost" might be needed to combat Omicron. This is after the CEO said, yesterday, that the existing vaccine might struggle with Omicron. None of this has kept world governments from cracking down harder with the announcement of more restrictions. EU president Ursula von der Leyen said that its time to "think about mandatory vaccination" across the entire EU.

Here in the US, Biden is set to make a big announcement tomorrow with regards to more restrictions - particularly pertaining to travelers returning from international destinations. It is rumored that Biden will announce 7 day quarantining at home for all travelers returning from international destinations (whether they are vaccinated or not). The real question is how will this be enforced? Will government officials come knock on your door at home to make sure you are home? Or will this be the beginning of more digital surveillance to track and monitor Americans?

(update)The stock market gave up all of its gains in the afternoon session over tax and lockdown fears.

Stock futures were lower overnight reacting to comments by the Moderna CEO that "existing vaccines might struggle with Omicron" and foresees a "material drop" in effectiveness. Meanwhile, the noose continues to tighten with news that Germany will punish people that try to use a fake vaccine passport with up to 2 years in prison. There were rumors yesterday that the State of Boston "and several other States" were going to be introducing a digital passport ID to track vaccination status as well. In somewhat related news, a federal court halted the vaccine mandate in Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

This is in addition to the federal court decision two weeks ago that suspended OSHA from enforcing mandates on private employers (w/more than 100 employees). I have a feeling that all of these federal orders are going to get steamrolled by the White House because of the Omicron variant panic - which could cause havoc amongst the States.

The stock market bounced today after the dismal half day semi-crash on Friday. It appears to be driven by mixed news that the Omicron variant is perhaps milder than initially reported by the main news outlets. That hasn't kept government officials and social media medical professionals from spreading fear and panic throughout the networks. Most of the announcements have been to remind everyone that "nothing has been ruled out" and that "all options are on the table." Most notable news today was that in response to Omicron, the UK has halved its booster shot cycle from 6 months to 3 months and recommends the 4th shot for the immuno-compromised. New York Times is reporting that Israeli Domestic Intelligence has been granted permission to access phone data of people with confirmed cases of Omicron variant for contact tracing (never mind that there isn't even a test available to identify the variant). The consensus is that we'll need to wait a few weeks to get full data back from South Africa about transmission, immune escape, R0, etc. 11/28/2021This morning Dr Angelique Coetzee (the doctor who first discovered the variant) described how she became aware of the Omicron variant in South Africa and that the cases were all "very, very mild." None required hospitalization. This is a huge blow to the panic-narrative that is changing the structure of our society over the course of a holiday weekend. South African prime minister is schedule to 'address the nation' sometime today - hopefully to punch a deathblow into the narrative that is driving the global panic. This news did not stop Japan from announcing that it has stopped all foreign travel into the country. As I type this, States, Nations, Schoolboards, Employers and entities of all sizes are "preparing for the worst."

Continued panic around the Twittersphere about Omicron. New York Declares State Of Emergency to increase hospital capacity and staffing ahead of Omicron. The first EU case was detected in Belgium (that originated in Egypt 11/11/21) with cases already found in UK, Israel and Hong Kong. Israel closes border to all foreigners due to new coronavirus variant. Dr. John Campbell (from UK) had a good overview of "The O Variant" that includes a short blurb about how it possibly mutated out a single patient that was immuno-compromised with AIDS/HIV. While that sounds scary I'm more of the camp that as the virus mutates it might be more contagious but that its going to be overall weaker than the prior strains.

The speed in which this entire variant has been announced and the quick reactions have been stunningly fast. Is it because we've learned from our past or is something more sinister afoot?

Stock market reacting to the B11529 variant scare. I think the market is looking for a reason to correct. It wants to correct. DJIA is down over 1000 points as I type this - almost 3%. US bans variety of flights from Africa (similar countries as the UK banned yesterday). By the end of the day the variant had been renamed to "Nu" and then again to "Omicron." The mutation originated in Botswana (of all places). In Africa where vaccination rates are the lowest in the world (so are covid cases and deaths). One of the last articles I read assured the world that Moderna and Novavax were both already working on a new vaccine for Omicron. Meanwhile, in the UK an abstract stated that MRNA vaccines increase heart attack risk from 11% to 25% over five years.

B.1.1.529 variant scare is starting. Israel bans travel from South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, and Eswatini amid new variant. UK bans flights from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini, and Zimbabwe from midday on Friday amid new variant. Happy Thanksgiving

The World has Shifted (COVID19 Impact on Our Future)
Published April 22, 2021

Only a few times in our lives do we experience something that radically changes our view of the future.

Right now, as I write this, the world is threatened by a new, unknown virus (COVID-19) that will change our lives forever.

While prior disasters such as the Christmas Day Tsunami or the Fukishima meltdown were tragic events that will forever be remembered - they didn't change our permanent outlook of the future nor our day-to-day behaviour like COVID-19 has already done to the world.
In my lifetime (mid-40s) the world has shifted with this magnitude only once:

September 11, 2001
The Pre-9/11 world was clearly different than it was after 9/11. Prior to 9/11 anyone could walk up to the airport terminal and greet or kiss their loved ones goodbye. After 9/11, entire government bureaucracies were created to "keep us safe" from global terrorism. As a result, global politics shifted, domestic security at airports changed, Middle-East reliance on oil for energy fueled massive growth in fossil-fuel alternatives, surveillance went mainstream and the militarization of our police became normal.

Like 9/11, the COVID-19 virus is resulting in radical changes to our day to day lives. People have been urged to work from home, schools and universities are closing and "doom's day prepping" has become a suburban hobby. Lessons are emerging from Hong Kong about preparedness and panic since they've been through two virus scares in the past.

These changes will mostly be permanent - and will give rise to new thinking that will question the validity of many of our institutions. Below are some examples:

Healthcare Shifts
It goes without saying that major healthcare shifts will come out of this experience. Telemedicine will likely rise to the mainstream as the preferred initial examination (for convenience, cost and safety).

Insurance costs and copays will be altered to accommodate testing and treatment (we are already seeing this). What other illnesses will this extend to? How does triage get effected when a hospital is overrun? How does healthcare shift during pandemics? Ironically, even people who oppose socialized medicine will look to the government for these answers.

Educational Shifts
Just today, elite universities across the country are cancelling classes for the rest of the quarter and beyond (Stanford, UC Berkeley, Harvard). As this continues, it questions the monetary value of an elite education. Is it worth spending $50,000 on tuition/room/board if the instruction can be done remotely by the student?

Is the "college experience" of living in a dorm and experimenting with alcohol, drugs and sex (often for the first time) what $50,000 buys the student? Can't this experience be replicated at a fraction of that price (a twelve pack of Coors light and some friends in a cornfield)?

The rise of MOOCs will eventually displace a good portion of the college experience for Americans and will have a "positive" impact on the overall cost of college tuition.

Public schools are temporarily closing in infected cluster areas across the country - which will put more pressure on the value of in-class instruction. Finally remote or "field" instruction will become a viable alternative for virtually all grades. And while this does put a burden on working families and particularly poor families who might not have a caretaker to stay home with the children - this domestic pressure will be felt at local school districts, city councils and county/state governments resulting in government programs and adjustments to accommodate everyone.

Look for a total revamp on homeschooling over the coming years as districts, politicians and parents over-react to future illness that can be spread through a community.

State governments will need to rethink "attendance" as the funding mechanism for school districts as well.
Naval Ravikant tweeted that "Active Shooter Drills will be replaced with Quarantine Drills."

Political Shifts
For the first time politicians will need to answer the question:

"Why didn't you shut down schools earlier?"

Suddenly, libertarians and conservatives will expect MORE from their Local, State and Federal governments to help with this shift. Liberals and progressives will also shift their views on borders, immigration and homelessness in different ways - calling for more restrictions and perhaps stricter laws.

Not only are our collective political views skewing as a result of this virus - but the very definitions of Freedom and Liberty are going to be called into question.

We all witnessed the draconian lock-downs that China exerted on Wuhan and other cities in an attempt to slowdown the spread of the virus. Will such lock-downs and quarantines work in a free society that was defined by government revolt work? Italy is the first Western nation experimenting with various forms of lock-downs in their attempt to arrest the virus - but it is still unknown if it will work.

The strengths and weaknesses of both centralized and decentralized governments will continue to be put to the test in the coming years as we continue to press the limits of the definitions of both.

Work Shifts
Remote work has already been on the rise over the past years with the resurgence of products like Zoom, Slack, Skype and Basecamp - not to mention the handheld computers that we all carry in our pockets. But after COVID-19, companies of all sizes will continue to shift their outlook on working from home and perceptions of productivity. Gone will be the water cooler, the mindless birthdays and endless meetings. People are beginning to trust their employees and realize that they CAN be more productive working from home (or remotely).

Afterall, if a majority of sales are completed over the phone or on a web meeting with a customer (the most important stakeholder in a business) - why can't "internal" meetings default to virtual as well?
The event and conference worlds are changing as a result and will need to be re-imagined - sadly many will go out of business.

Remote will continue to become more and more the default "location" for employees and companies that continue to shun or mock remote workers will drop in both favorability as well as productivity.

Hygiene Shifts
Our household and public expectations for hygiene and sanitation will rise and shift to wearing gloves and masks in public. Like in many Eastern countries - this will become the new normal. Some have even predicted entire new fashion trends as a result of the virus that embrace simple masks and full headdresses.

Wiping down the airplane seat when you first sit down will no longer just be my wife when traveling with our children - but this will be standard procedure for everyone performed by the airline staff.

Environmental and conservation campaigns to save paper towels have switched now that hand dryers in bathrooms have been labeled "viral fountains."

New health standards for airplanes, hotels, restaurants, businesses and public places will permanently change (for the better!).

Money Shifts
Look for a major rise in Apple Pay, Google Pay and other methods of payment that do not require a credit card or cash to be handled / exchanged. This will become the norm.

Travel Shifts
Cancellation fees and change fees will be lowered as consumers will demand flexibility to account for sudden changes. Cruise lines are changed forever.

Contract Law
Event agreements and contract law will include clauses to account for epidemics and pandemics (who knew).
Insurance underwriters will dream up unimaginable scenarios to profit from as a result of this virus.

Generational Shift
Neil Howe, the generation demographer writes that generations are often defined by the most recent "big event" that they just can't remember.

For example, Boomers were defined by World War II and the New Deal - they inherited the immediate economic benefits from a prior generation that made immense sacrifices for the future. Likewise, Generation X was defined by the assassinations of JFK, RFK and MLK - resulting in a disillusionment in government.

Future generations will be defined by the fallout of the COVID-19 CoronaVirus. The implications will be broad and will continue to change our society for many, many years.

Like everything else - this too shall pass. But even if this virus is contained and ends up fizzling out in the next few weeks - the worldshift has already begun and will continue to shift every aspect of our lives for the foreseeable future.

This change isn't a bad thing - it's just a thing.

These shifts happen and it creates tremendous opportunities for us as a society to innovate, create, build, bond and grow. Science has big problems to solve and funding will be plenty as a result of this virus. This will spawn new interest in healthcare for students to study and research. Entrepreneurs will pour their hearts into new businesses that will attempt to solve innumerable new problems that will arise. Governments will adjust to work closer with communities, politicians priorities will shift and we will hold them all more accountable for our collective safety.

While quarantines sound negative and scary - perhaps they shift into positive experiences where families, friends and neighbors draw closer and help each other through difficult times.

I'm very optimistic about our future - and knowing that the world has been through many "shifts" before - the future always ends up being brighter and bigger and different than anyone imagined.

Here in the US, we suffer from an "it can't happen here" syndrome that lulls us into complacency when it comes to emergencies like COVID-19. These sort of things only happen on TV - either on the news as we watch SARs unfold in Asia or in apocalyptic movies that serve as entertainment - not instruction manuals.
Outside of the localized tragedies that will occur as some people lose friends or loved ones to the virus, I think the most important shift will be in American's view that "it CAN happen here" and that things have change - the world has shifted.

[This article was written as a draft - its not scientifically accurate nor am I a forecaster of any sort - but I felt compelled to capture my thoughts on what I believe is a major shift in the world as a result of this virus. I hope it fizzles out and I'm wrong.]

How The Quarantine is Changing You
At the time of this writing, LA County is 44 days into the lockdown/quarantine.

The quarantine is changing us - physiologically, emotionally, mentally and psychologically.

Last week I watched a documentary on the Antarctica. At one point in the film they discuss something called ["Polar T3 Syndrome"] 9https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polar_T3_syndrome) that happens to people who winter-over in the Antarctica. The descriptions and interviews of people who have experienced this hits very close to home. I think you'll agree.

Below are excerpts from the Wikipedia article on "Winter-Over-Syndrome":

"...the immobility, monotony, harsh physical environment, sexual deprivation, and the general isolation, are believed to contribute to increased anxiety and depression among the residents of the station.

"The most important psychological stresses appear to be: the problem of individual adjustment to the group, the relative monotony of the environment, and the absence of certain accustomed sources of emotional satisfaction."

"...the lack of privacy and constant gossip that existed within the community, had a negative influence on social relationships, especially between men and women. As a result, 60% of one's leisure time is spent alone in a dorm room, whereas others are forced to work and live in confined spaces, due to the nature of their work."

Speaking for myself, cooped up and working from home with my family I can attest to experiencing several if not all of the above symptoms over the past 44 days. I've also noticed every member of my family spending more and more time alone, in their rooms, away from the rest of the family. Often, these extended periods of self-isolation in a confined room are excused because of school or work - but after reading the Wikipedia article I couldn't help but see the connection.

Certainly we are all suffering from a lack of privacy and monotony. I have noticed an uptick in social media drama with some friends and family members. Recent texts and emails from friends are all saying that their anxiety levels are the highest they've been since the quarantine started.

I've also noticed in myself, a hesitancy to reach out to friends and connect. At first, during the first few weeks of the quarantine there was a buzz and a yearning to connect with others over Zoom, text and phone calls. Now, it takes specific and deliberate effort to make those connections - as I become more and more satisfied with "being alone" - even if I'm sad or crave a connection. The spark is fading - or almost gone.

Even when I go to the store (once a week on average) I find myself avoiding eye contact with other people - uninterested in making a connection - satisfied to hide behind my mask. Not because of the virus - but because of the lack of spark. The only exception I've noticed is that I've actually had more local conversations with my immediate neighbors over the fence or while jogging and walking.

I thought that we'd get used to it after a few weeks - but the reality is that the longer we are confined - the more internal damage we are sustaining - without a healthy outlet.

And, while I believe things will get better I'm concerned that there could be long-term effects from this quarantine. Physiological changes to our mind and bodies are not corrected over night. Not to mention that once we do 'open-up' that it will be a gradual opening and I fear that many of isolationist feelings will persist for some time.

My greater concern is that while I do believe we will eventually emerge a stronger society after this COVID19 event - I believe that our society (and us, the people) will have changed dramatically. I believe that this will usher in a new perspective on every aspect of our lives.

This isn't the way humans are supposed to be/act. Whether we like it or not, humans are social and we've set up massive institutions and rituals in our culture that have endured thousands of years - all to socialize with one another.

I like how Naval Ravikant put it in this tweet:
Schools aren’t about learning. Offices aren’t about working. Churches aren’t about praying. Restaurants aren’t about eating. Obvious now?

We've already seen the impact on school, work, shopping, entertainment, public health and our political views. With such fast and radical changes to our lives - combined with most of the World experiencing even a mild version of Polar T3 Syndrome - our future will not be like the past but instead something completely different.

China and Trump's Creative Destruction
There are a lot of unknowns about the real status of the trade negotiations between China and the US. Media will claim victory or failure (or ambiguity) depending on where the news is coming from (China or US, Conservative or Liberal). So, like most things - don't believe most of what you read - or, at the very least, take it all with a big grain of salt.

What can be ascertained is that China and the US have agreed to kick the can down the road and figure out the trade issues in 90 days. Is this a victory or a defeat? It's neither. It's how things get done.

Neither country wants the other to fail. China and the US are tied together in a functional codependent relationship. We are tied at the hip. A slow, incremental compromise on both sides is the most likely outcome in the near future as well as in the long run - and this 90 day 'pause' is proof of such an outcome. This sort of a slow crawl benefits both parties.

That being said, the recent news about the trade war reminded me of a July article in the Financial Times about the Chinese respect for Trump.

The excerpts below tell a very different story than what we normally hear about Trump in the US:

The Chinese are wary of Donald Trump’s creative destruction
The president is the first US leader in decades to challenge China on multiple fronts

Mark Leonard - JULY 24, 2018
Donald Trump is leading a double life. In the west, most foreign policy experts see him as reckless, unpredictable and self-defeating. But though many in Asia dislike him as much as the Europeans do, they see him as a more substantial figure. I have just spent a week in Beijing talking to officials and intellectuals, many of whom are awed by his skill as a strategist and tactician.

One of the people I met was the former vice-foreign minister He Yafei. He shot to global prominence in 2009 when he delivered a finger-wagging lecture to President Barack Obama at the Copenhagen climate conference before blowing up hopes of a deal. He is somewhat less belligerent where Mr Trump is concerned. He worries that strategic competition has become the new normal and says that “trade wars are just the tip of the iceberg”.

Few Chinese think that Mr Trump’s primary concern is to rebalance the bilateral trade deficit. If it were, they say, he would have aligned with the EU, Japan and Canada against China rather than scooping up America’s allies in his tariff dragnet. They think the US president’s goal is nothing less than remaking the global order.

They think Mr Trump feels he is presiding over the relative decline of his great nation. It is not that the current order does not benefit the US. The problem is that it benefits others more in relative terms. To make things worse the US is investing billions of dollars and a fair amount of blood in supporting the very alliances and international institutions that are constraining America and facilitating China’s rise.

In Chinese eyes, Mr Trump’s response is a form of “creative destruction”. He is systematically destroying the existing institutions — from the World Trade Organization and the North American Free Trade Agreement to Nato and the Iran nuclear deal — as a first step towards renegotiating the world order on terms more favourable to Washington.

Once the order is destroyed, the Chinese elite believes, Mr Trump will move to stage two: renegotiating America’s relationship with other powers. Because the US is still the most powerful country in the world, it will be able to negotiate with other countries from a position of strength if it deals with them one at a time rather than through multilateral institutions that empower the weak at the expense of the strong.

My interlocutors say that Mr Trump is the US first president for more than 40 years to bash China on three fronts simultaneously: trade, military and ideology. They describe him as a master tactician, focusing on one issue at a time, and extracting as many concessions as he can. They speak of the skilful way Mr Trump has treated President Xi Jinping. “Look at how he handled North Korea,” one says. “He got Xi Jinping to agree to UN sanctions [half a dozen] times, creating an economic stranglehold on the country. China almost turned North Korea into a sworn enemy of the country.” But they also see him as a strategist, willing to declare a truce in each area when there are no more concessions to be had, and then start again with a new front.

For the Chinese, even Mr Trump’s sycophantic press conference with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, in Helsinki had a strategic purpose. They see it as Henry Kissinger in reverse. In 1972, the US nudged China off the Soviet axis in order to put pressure on its real rival, the Soviet Union. Today Mr Trump is reaching out to Russia in order to isolate China.

In the short term, China is talking tough in response to Mr Trump’s trade assault. At the same time they are trying to develop a multiplayer front against him by reaching out to the EU, Japan and South Korea. But many Chinese experts are quietly calling for a rethink of the longer-term strategy. They want to prepare the ground for a new grand bargain with the US based on Chinese retrenchment. Many feel that Mr Xi has over-reached and worry that it was a mistake simultaneously to antagonise the US economically and militarily in the South China Sea.

Instead, they advocate economic concessions and a pullback from the aggressive tactics that have characterised China’s recent foreign policy. They call for a Chinese variant of “splendid isolationism”, relying on growing the domestic market rather than disrupting other countries’ economies by exporting industrial surpluses. So which is the real Mr Trump? The reckless reactionary destroying critical alliances, or the “stable genius” who is pressuring China? The answer seems to depend on where you ask the question. Things look different from Beijing than from Brussels.

The writer (Mark Leonard) is director of the European Council on Foreign Relations

Optimism 2008
I am optimistic and looking forward to 2008 so that we can finally see the emergence of the real (Web 2.0) companies — the successful companies who have been around the entire time but no one’s heard of.

The past few years have been hype-ridden, noisy and full of speculation about who or which companies mattered most. Most of these real companies in 2007 were ignored because of Facebook’s hype or overshadowed by Google’s spaghetti strategy — which will both be greatly diminished in 2008.

2008 will bring the rise of real companies who have been cutting their teeth — with their noses to the ground working hard, listening to what customers need and leveraging the very tools and philosophies of Web 2.0 that everyone else around them was talking about. Instead of talking about Web 2.0, these companies have been living it and deploying successfully for a couple of years now.

Most of these companies will NOT be venture-backed, will NOT be big sexy names and will NOT be led by superstar CEOs.

These companies will emerge in 2008 and prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Web 2.0 actually means something, particularly to the business world and the Enterprise. These companies will have been doing what everyone else has been speculating, blogging and Twittering about all of these years.

I’m looking forward to seeing these companies emerge — a cast of new, unfamiliar leaders who have real customers to back them up and real revenue and momentum to continue to grow — many without the need for venture or private equity funding.

Will these companies be big companies? Hardly. But from amongst these break-out companies that emerge in 2008 a handful will grab the attention of the big boys — and possibly even begin to bear some early traits of being a Google killer.

These companies are scrappy, lean, smart, agile, pragmatic, practical and real. And, since these companies have real, paying customers, they will have already built business models that will be relatively immune to the 2008 economic slump that will put their competitors into the deadpool. These companies already see what’s coming — they’ve seen it coming for a long time already.

I can’t wait to see who these companies are — and I’m highly optimistic about their future and how they will help shape 2008 into the year that Web 2.0 began to really matter.

The Bad in Email (or Why We Need Collaboration Software)
Originally published May 1, 2006

A few weeks ago we wrote, about The Good In Email and why email is still the most adopted collaboration tool around. The response to our article was mostly positive, peppered with a few negative jabs here and there, but overall we were pleased with the dialogue it invoked in our industry.

To quell any speculation that we are ditching collaboration software in favor of email, realize that this was just an exercise. We embarked on a close examination of email to see what we could learn from this killer app, in an attempt to improve our customer’s experience. Our examination included an inquiry to all sides of the medium; with the intention of extracting the good and throwing away the bad.

In spite of email’s universal success (as a collaboration tool), and in spite of its many good traits, email contains deep, inherent flaws that force users and markets to seek alternatives to collaborating via email.

After all, if email is so “good” at its job, then how do we explain the popular resurgence of Collaboration Software (masked as Web 2.0)? And how else do you explain Ray Ozzie as the CTO of Microsoft?

To reiterate our stance from the previous article, the facts speak for themselves. Email is here to stay. But while ubiquity might define adoption, ubiquity does not define ‘correctness’ ‘rightness,’ ‘goodness’ or even ‘efficiency.’ Yet another example where the ‘wisdom of crowds’ does not apply. Just because ‘everyone is doing it’ does not mean that everyone should be doing it.

Therefore, we’d like to present The Bad In Email, or Why Ray Ozzie is the CTO of Microsoft.

Email is Silo’ed
The single worst trait of email is that it’s silo’ed.

What I mean by silo’ed is that email traps information into personalized, unsharable, unsearchable vacuums where no one else can access it – the Email Inbox.

Think of your Email Inbox as a heavily fortified walled garden. Not mentioning the difficulties many have accessing their Email Inbox outside the corporate firewall, the Email Inbox contains a hodgepodge of business, personal and private information that most people do not want to share with others.

For many folks, the Email Inbox contains their most intimate secrets all mashed together into a single location: business correspondences, contracts, proposals, reminders, tasks, love letters, indiscreet online purchases, dirty jokes, pictures of your spouse (and kids), time-wasting games, inappropriate messages from co-workers and friends and lets not forget spam.

I think its obvious that silo’ed data is devastating to team productivity. The snowballing effects of silo’ed data can debilitate even the strongest of project managers.

Here is the progressive snowballing effect of silo’ed data:

  1. The data and content types are mixed and mashed (see list above).
  2. The data is often ‘NSFW’ (Not Safe For Work).
  3. The data is unintelligent (untagged, lacks taxonomy, unfiled).
  4. The data is therefore unsharable. (both by personal choice and lack of technology)
  5. The data is therefore unsearchable (by others).
  6. The data is therefore inaccessible (by others).
  7. Your Email Inbox is therefore useless to the rest of the Team (Inspite of the goldmine of data that probably resides in your Inbox).

Email Perpetuates Many Walled Gardens
The only thing worse than one walled garden are many walled gardens.
As soon as you introduce two or more people into a collaborative environment, you now have multiple ‘my inboxes’- each being a walled garden.

There are some hack fixes to this problem: Yahoo Groups, Google Groups, Newsgroups, List Serves, Forums, Carbon Copy and Email Aliases (ala Exchange); but in the end, each of these solutions still rely on the Email Inbox to send and receive data. Thus reinforcing the Walled Garden.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve posted to a Public Forum / Group expecting to continue the exchange online…only to receive an email IN MY PERSONAL EMAIL INBOX.

Unfortunately, the Walled Gardens of our Email Inboxes are deceivingly warm and cozy. This feigned-comfort of safety whispers into our ears like a wily devil to, “Just email the document to me” or “Just email that document to yourself” with the false-belief that it will remain safe, secure and locked away. But that is just it……its locked away so that NO ONE ELSE CAN ACCESS IT. This is counter-culture to team collaboration.

This false-pretense of comfort in email only reinforces and perpetuates the temptation to build and protect your own walled garden.

Email is NOT Secure (Part 1)
We’ve been lulled into believing that email is safe and secure.

If you are using SMTP (the universal pipe, remember?), you need to know that it doesn’t encrypt data/messages.

If you are using POP or IMAP, you need to know that they both require you to send unencrypted authentication (username/password).

Unless both the email Sender (you) and the Recipient are using Digital Keys/Signatures, the contents of your email are about as secure as Imelda Marcos in a shoe store. While the idea of using Digital

Keys/Signatures sounds neat, it is not practical.

Outside of fictional characters in Cryptonomicon, I’m not aware of anyone else using encrypted email and digital signatures.

(Anyone using cryptographic e-mail is in the minority and the exception to the rule.)

I’m aware of services such as Hushmail, and certificates offered by Thawte and Verisign; but I’ve never received a Hushmail nor have I ever encountered an emailthat I couldn’t read because I lacked a Digital Signature.

If you still don’t believe me, and if you are a user of Outlook, try this:

In Outlook, click on Tools | Options and select the Security Tab.

Now, select either of the first two check boxes that ask you to “Encrypt contents and attachments for outgoing messages” and/or “Add digital signature to outgoing messages.” Now, send an email.

If you did this correctly, you will be prompted to see this screen. If you are brave, click on the “Get Digital ID” button. If you are like me (and I venture that most of my audience is comprised of technical and/or business users) I don’t have the time, patience or desire to venture down the path of buying certificates and keys and configuring them on all six of the machines I work from on any given day.

This is a non-starter. No one uses this feature. Thus, my point: Email is not secure.

[I will concede that webmail is semi-secure in that if you are using SSL (HTTPS), the transmission of data from your computer to the email server is secure. But the moment your message leaves your email host….its a free-for-all for any one to sniff and hack. The contents of your message are not encrypted or secure…..unless the recipient of your email is also within the confines of the secure environment (for example, if you and your recipient are both sending and receiving email through Gmail’s web interface and both using SSL, then the message should be encrypted from point to point.) But, we are not all using Gmail either (at least not yet).

[Eudora Security Flashback: I still don’t know what the hell Kerberos is and what it has to do with a dog much less my email?]

Email is NOT Secure (Part 2)
I argue that email is the single most vulnerable point in any organization’s security policy. It takes two seconds to send a confidential document to anyone or any group in the world. And, unless you are using Novell Groupwise (gulp) there is no way to ‘retract’ your email.

Most companies spend a fortune locking down their IT infrastructure. This results in either Total Lockdown, also known as Paralysis whereby no one can do anything without a password, passkey, keycard, signature and sign-in sheet; or in No Lockdown, also known as Free-Love-Utopia whereby everyone is equal because everyone is an Administrator.

Security measures are very important for organizations at all levels, but they shouldn’t prevent the free flow of information amongst a team. Unfortunately, this also means that confidential data is only as secure as any person using email.

Group Email is Really Complicated
While personal email is easy to setup, configure and administer. Group email is a complete nightmare. The rise of spam, phishing and viruses makes group email administration a full time job (department in many cases).

For many enterprise users the infrastructure is already there. But for the remaining 25 million businesses in the United States that do not have an established group email infrastructure, the cost of administration is daunting.

Email is Not a Document Manager
Every company, department, workgroup and team has fallen prey to Document Hot Potato. This is when team members call each other (or even worse, email each other) looking for the latest revision of the proposal/contract/document.

There are some interesting solutions emerging over at Nextpage and Echosign, but these solutions are supplementary to email. They do a good job of integrating email into the workflow of contract and signature management, but appear to ignore the fundamental requirements of teams to just share, search and access documents and files.

Email Communications Do Not Correspond to Priority
If everyone used Outlook (70% of Central Desktop users use Outlook), then the ability to assign priority to each message would actually work. But we don’t live in a Microsoft world (in spite of what many of you might think) and instead, we usually measure and weigh the importance of an email message by the number of people included in the carbon copy. This is highly subjective and fails to address the need to order and sort messages and task by importance.


Email is inconsistent
In spite of email’s universality, there is still discrepancy and lack of consistency in reading HTML and rich text formats. Email clients require users to determine whether or not to ‘download images’ or ‘convert to text,’ these are options most users do not know how to set or configure.

How many times have you read email through a webmail interface that reformatted the HTML into unintelligible garbage? How many hours have you spent trying to open up a MIME-ENCAPSULATED MESSAGE?

Email works most of the time, but when it doesn’t it’s usually the result of a Client Configuration problem, not a connection problem.

Email is not permission based
You either have rights to use email, or you don’t. There is no viable middle-ground here.

Spam Filtering is better, but still not good enough
I still find very important messages in my Spam/Junk Folder. While I’m glad my Spam Filter (Gmail) is working most of the time, it’s not perfect, and often requires frequent ‘gardening.’

Email does not work well for multi-users
Its still challenging for multiple people to share business email accounts(i.e. support, bugs and sales messages). IMAP sort of works, but presents its fair-share of limitations.

Companies such as Sproutit are working on solving this problem. I wish them luck and admire their ambition.

Email is Prone to Viruses
There is no need to elaborate here.

Email makes us lazy
Lets face it, we all like being whispered to in our ear. We enjoy listening to that wily-devil of compromise that tempts us to “just email the document to myself.” This is purely the seduction of sloth.

In the end, the strength of the collaboration tool is only as strong as its weakest link. It only takes one person to break the entire system.

Yes, there is good in email; but it’s mixed with a bunch of bad.

In spite of our comfort with email, we must unlearn what we have learned, open our eyes and acknowledge The Bad In Email.

Email IS the most adopted collaboration tool; but it isn’t the best online collaboration tool. There are more efficient ways to work and its time for us to let go, create and adopt collaboration tools. I know this. You know this. And Bill Gates knows this (which is why Ray Ozzie is the CTO at Microsoft).

The Good in Email
Originally published April 3, 2006

The Good In Email (or Why Email Is Still The Most Adopted Collaboration Tool)

Email as an online collaboration tool sucks. Everyone knows this. Everyone says it. Everyone writes about it.
And everyone agrees that its inefficient, it’s chaotic, its silo’ed and its full of spam. Yet, in spite of these shortcomings, we can assume with confidence that email is still the preferred method of ‘collaborating’ and sharing information with others.

Neither the declared “War On Email (spam)” nor the endless-parade-of-collaboration-vendors has seemed to of made a dent in the reduction of emails sent each day. A recent statistic estimated between 32 and 62 billion emails are sent around the world EACH DAY.

So, why are Collaboration Software Vendors (Central Desktop included), keen on vilifying email and so quick to promise a practical alternative to the chaos of email? And, if the vendor’s software is so much better than email, than why do users revert back to email as soon as they hit a snag in the system? Why do users refuse to adopt collaboration software?

In short, why do we love our email?
[Side Note: I realize that few companies today are touting their collaboration services as a complete replacement for email. But my point revolves around the idea that most users are looking for alternate ways (other than email) to communicate and collaborate with their fellow business colleagues and I believe that the industry has perpetuated the myth that their collaboration software solution (plugin your company or software name here (wikis, blogs, etc) as the solution.]

So, in our attempts to improve the customer experience and increase Central Desktop adoption amongst our user base, we’ve taken a closer look at email to see what we could learn from this killer app that continues to haunt us. We’ve decided to look for the Good In Email.

Below is a quick summation of what we believe is Good about Email. The list tells us why users continue to collaborate via email rather than adopting collaboration software and it also tells us what we, as collaboration software vendors, can learn from it:

Email is Easy To Understand
Virtually everyone who has ever touched a computer understands email. Maybe it was daunting at first, but in the end, email is easy to understand. “It’s like sending a letter through the postal service, except its electronic.” People get it. The fact that so many grandparents and young children use email to stay in contact with their families and friends around the world is a testament to its ease-of-use. Likewise, after you “learn email” for the first time, all other ‘variations’ of it are essentially the same. The learning curve for switching email interfaces is virtually non-existent.

By comparison, most collaboration software solutions are difficult to understand. Many provide such a different user experience (wikis for example) that the learning curve becomes another hurdle of adoption.

In the words of Steve Krug, “Don’t Make Me Think.”

Email is Universal
99.9% of all knowledge workers use email. Understanding and using email has become synonymous with ‘using the telephone.’ Email crosses the boundaries of Language, Country, Creed, Geography and Origin. Everyone has it.

Everyone uses it. This is largely because email enjoys the industry standard protocol of SMTP. The “SMTP Pipe” ensures that any user in the world can participate and interact via email, no matter what email client software they are running.

There isn’t a collaboration software vendor that holds a substantive market share today that is on par with email. Talk to three different companies and they are all ‘collaborating’ on different platforms. Today, instead of supporting an industry standard, collaboration software vendors each attempt to lock their users into their proprietary platform and interface. Everyone is using a different package and our industry lacks a “standard pipe” to hook into. Michael Sampson wrote heavily on the topic of closed collaboration solutions late last year.

RSS is providing us with some hope in this arena (and is beginning to show promise), but in its current form, is still lacking interactivity. Not to mention that RSS suffers from neglect because it is still virtually unknown to business users and severely lacking in general user awareness.

(Because of sheer numbers, Microsoft’s Sharepoint is the clear leader in the collaboration industry, but the number of businesses that actually use Sharepoint is probably statistically unknown. Just because software is bundled with something else, doesn’t mean people are using it, much less understand it.)

Email is Accessible from Anywhere
You can read and access your email from anywhere without having to jump through rings of fire.

For the corporations that restrict email accessible to the office or VPN, ask yourself why every business user also has a Gmail, Yahoo Mail or Hotmail account. The surge in Blackberry, Treo and other mobile devices (primarily acting as email interfaces) speaks volumes to the point of accessibility.

Collaboration Software is still difficult to access. This is mostly for good reason as business users are, and should be, concerned with security; but the accessibility of collaboration software often falls prey to the IT department’s insatiable appetite for restricting, controlling and limiting employee access to mission critical tools. To date, even the most advanced collaboration solutions only provide limited mobile device access and functionality.

Email Can Be Personalized
In spite of its crudeness, email is personalized.

Email provides the luxury of knowing who sent the message (activity alert) as well as who else is participating in the activity. And, because of email’s inherent features of carbon copying and blind carbon copying, the message and alert system is relatively prioritized. The importance, or weight, of the email message is often measured by the number of people included in the carbon copy.

Its also just as easy for the user to quickly include or exclude participants based on the activity or task at hand. With email address quick-fill, alias mapping and email groups, broadcasting activity alerts and messages becomes very personalized.

Most collaboration software really starts to breakdown at this point. The “easy-to-use” collaboration products simply avoid personalization. Most enterprise collaboration tools provide highly personalized features…..but who uses them? Its too much work or costs too much money to be viable.

Email is Manageable/Configurable
In addition to being personalized, email is manageable and configurable. Both novice and intermediate level email users can create rules for filing, routing and managing the data flow of email. Email has enjoyed a renaissance recently thanks to products like Gmail, Sproutit’s Mailroom and Yahoo web mail; all which provide richer tools for managing and configuring email.

Collaboration software vendors usually fall into one side of the ditch or the other when it comes to providing a balance of simplicity or configurability.

Email has the unique qualities of being simple enough for beginners but configurable enough to accommodate advanced users. This is something every software vendor strives for, but rarely achieves. Fortunately for email software vendors, the simplicity is inherent to the medium, not the interface.

Email is Searchable
The sudden resurrection of desktop search by Microsoft, Yahoo and Google (and others) finally solved the common of ‘I never delete email’ syndrome that plagues more email users than any of us care to admit. Gmail clearly leads the pack in this feature; but lets not forget the little company that Microsoft quietly acquired last year, LookOutSoft, which provided the simplest and fastest way to search your Outlook PST files.

Some early players like Enfish were ahead of their time when it came to combining search with collaboration.

New collaboration software vendors are finally starting to understand the tremendous power of search combined with collaboration. Most collaboration software is about ‘fixing’ the broken systems that business teams are struggling with to collaborate: such as document management, file storage, revisioning, share weblinks and bookmarks. The value of each of these systems is increased exponentially when a powerful search component is layered on top them. Search tools in Collaboration Environments MUST provide FULL document text search for all popular file types such as Word, Excel, PPT, PDF and HTML. Anything less is useless to the user and begs them to return to searching their own email boxes for answers.

Email is In Your Face
Perhaps the single biggest reason why users reject collaboration software and revert back to email is that Email Is In Your Face. Like Instant Messaging, email is highly disruptive, but it works.

Dovetailing into the previous points of Personalization and Manageability, each user can determine the level of attention they want to allocate to email and alerts. A user might check email every 30 minutes or every 60 seconds. The user can then determine how they want to be disrupted by either displaying a systray alert or a pop-up window every time a new email arrives (or if you are on a mobile device like a blackberry, you can set it to vibrate, flash lights or sound an alert upon receipt of anew message). In other words, email is “in your face,” “intrusive” yet, highly personalized and configurable.

Most collaboration software vendors completely miss the mark on this point. Many vendors send an email alert every time an activity occurs (thereby creating more spam for the business team). This solution RARELY works because the tool isn’t providing the users with the same level of personalization and manageability that email provided them in first place! Other vendors error on the side of caution by not providing any email alert system or by not providing an RSS feed of activities (such tools are doomed to fail from the beginning).

While some provide RSS feeds about group activities the feeds are usually of low value to the business user.

Low value meaning, lack of security (few vendors provide SSL or Authenticated RSS Feeds), confusing or meaningless titles, no user interaction with the feed, not personalized (receive all activity information or none) and impossible for novices to understand or grasp.

Email Just Works
Let’s make this really simple. Email just works. It’s chaotic and overwhelming, but it works most of the time and there is no learning curve. A new employee can sit down at their new desk and they can immediately start sending and receiving messages, participating in email thread conversations, stay apprised of events and even delegate tasks; all without having to learn, navigate or configure a new interface. And, if that person wants to retrieve information from previous projects or historical data all they really need to do is open and search their Gmail or Yahoo account which they were probably forwarding most of their email to anyways.

So where does this leave us? This short examination of email reveals that there are a number of hurdles that continue to plague the collaboration software industry. In spite of its shortcomings, email continues to be the de facto standard for team collaboration. Is there a need for advanced collaboration tools in business teams? Yes. Will business teams continue to rely on email as their primary means of communication? Yes. Is there room on the business desktop for collaboration tools? Yes, but the tools better be simple and they better be easy to use, and, they better just as easy (or easier) to use than email. Central Desktop has taken steps to address each of the points listed above (and will continue to address them in the future), but I’ll reserve those details for another post.

Am I suggesting that we all abandon our collaboration dreams and submit to email? Absolutely not. As a fellow collaboration software vendor, though, I think we’ve got our work cut out ahead of us. Mass adoption isn’t around the corner. In order for any of us to succeed beyond the outer rings of the blogosphere, we must look closely at the single most successful medium to enter the business world in 25 years. We must take a closer look at this killer app and apply the same rules of simplicity and ease-of-use to our own products if we ever expect to become more than a cottage industry. To succeed, we must look back and learn and apply what we’ve come to understand as the Good In Email.

Google's Silent Monopoly (Or How Much Does Google Pay For Its Own AdWords?)
Originally Posted December 2006

What does the future of start-ups look like when they spend a majority of their advertising budget with one company – and its your competitor?

“So what? As long as the ROI is there.” – Right?
The history of business is filled with examples of such healthy compromises – also known as “co-opetition.”

Arguably, Google has mastered the art of coopetition.

Last year, Google generating $2.7 billion, 40 percent of its total revenue, through “cooperating” with other web sites that host Google’s ads and then share the click revenue. Ellen Lee does a nice summary on this topic.

But what if the company started placing ads for its own competitive products next to yours?

And, what if those ads are placed higher and in more premium positions than yours?

Well, that’s exactly what Google is doing with certain keywords.

Google’s Silent Monopoly
Over the past few years, Google’s spaghetti strategy for product innovation has yielded a plethora of features and services that with the exception of the emerging “anti-Office”, appear to have very little in common. And, for the most part, people (including me) didn’t really care about Google’s Product Strategy. As Google releases new products most of the world continues to moves on.

But, a few weeks ago, Google acquired a competitor (Jotspot) to my company (Central Desktop). It wasn’t until Google encroached into my business space that I started to care about Google’s product strategy. Suddenly, Google’s product strategy did get my attention, but not for the reasons you might think.

You see, I’m not afraid of Google or its product strategy. And, I’m not afraid of competing with Google either. Unlike Paul Graham, I believe that small companies can build defensible businesses in the shadow of larger companies and achieve success. I hold strong beliefs that if a company is providing a valuable service to a paying customer, that the small company can successfully compete and coexist with a large company in free and open marketplace.

A cursory look at Google’s financials and their product history is all you need to realize that Google has not produced a string of successful products.

To date, Google’s only two product success stories are Search and AdWords. And, one could argue that one is just an outcropping of the other and therefore only one product – together comprising 99% of its revenues.
And, there is the rub.

You see, I’m not afraid of competing with Google – but I AM afraid of AdWords. Here is why……….

Google Cheats
Google holds the top advertisement (Adword) slot for the following key words:
intranet, spreadsheet, documents, calendar, word processor, email, video, instant messenger, blog, photo sharing, online groups, maps, start page, restaurants, dining, and books (somehow Amazon has managed to appear in the #1 ad slot for ‘books’).

For spreadsheet, blog and video, in addition to squatting the premium ad position, Google Products also dominate three of the first four search results.

In such cases, Google Product Links and Ads can account for up to 25% of your viewable screen resolution – 30-40% for lower screen resolutions –almost guarantying that users will click on a Google Product over any other search results, sponsored links or text ads.

What this tells me is if you are trying to advertise a product that is competitive to Google, then you’ll never be able to receive the Top Ad Position, no matter how much money you bid and spend.

How successful do you think *your** ad buys would be if your competitor trumped your position no matter how high you bid your key words?*

At what costs is this affecting the CTR (Click-Through-Rate) of my ads –since they will always be placed lower than Google’s Ads for its own products? (Research yields the the top position yields twice as many clicks as the second position)

Should Google decide to market Jotspot (my competitor) with words like “wiki”(and there is no reason to believe that they wouldn’t), I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to precisely measure the detrimental effect of Google/Jotspot ads trumping my keyword buys for the same words. I can tell you that the net-effect will be negative, noticeable and damaging in comparison to their competitive ads NOT appearing.

Three Questions for Google

  1. How much does Google pay itself to claim the top ad position for searches relevant to its own products?

  2. Does Google hold itself to the same minimum CTR thresholds for Ads placed?(In case you aren’t aware – Google recently changed its Landing Page criteria; increasing keyword buys to $5.00, $10.00, $15.00+ for companies who’s Ads were not meeting a minimum (unknown) CTR.)

  3. What alterations does Google make to its search algorithm to guarantee top rank for search results relevant to its own products?

Note: Yahoo does not place ads for its own products in the premium ad position.

How Deep Does the Rabbit Hole Go?
Does any of this feel or sound familiar? It should. We’ve all already seen this movie.

Many are already declaring Google’s product strategy as Google Ad/OS.

It’s the perfect metaphor.

Should Google manage to pay off enough media publishers then they’ll be able to syndicate and distribute content via YouTube – then this will solidify their position as the advertising operating system.

But, just like Microsoft misused its monopolistic position and squeezed Netscape out of the browser market by bundling its products with its operating system – so Google could prevent competitors from entering the market (squeeze out competitors) by “bundling” its own product ads into premium advertising positions in its “advertising operating system.”

Think about it. How different is it than MSFT placing its products (Internet Explorer) in a premium marketing position (embedded in the OS)?

Why This Matters To You
In the beginning, AdWords was hailed as the revolutionary platform that enabled small start-ups, mom and pop stores and businesses all around the world to ‘compete fairly in an open market bid system.’ It was written that “small businesses can now compete evenly with big business – it levels the playing field.”

But that’s not entirely true. Is it? Google has unfairly made itself (its own products) exceptions to the rule. As the search queries above have shown us, Google has wielded its weight and manipulated the market to its own advantage – at potentially detrimental costs to small businesses like Central Desktop.

How is a small company able to compete with a force that controls and manipulates the market to its own advantage?

Up until now, you might be saying to yourself, “This doesn’t apply to my business – I don’t compete with Google.”

And you are right. Today you don’t compete with Google, but tomorrow you might.

Based on various hints dropped by Google executives, it appears that Mobile Phone Service Providers, Music companies, Movie and TV companies ala YouTube had better keep an eye out on how they intend to keep Google in check.

And even if you never end up competing with Google, I would certainly be concerned about any monopolistic giant that manipulates markets to its advantage but publicly declares to not “be evil.”

The power to unfairly squelch innovation and competition should never be taken lightly.

Update: This post was originally written around midnight 12/05/06. Perhaps my search queries for the keywords listed above yielded Google Ads in more premium positions b/c other Bidder’s AdWords accounts were largely used up through the bulk of the day? Here are the screenshots I took of the results last night.

It’s now 9pm 12/06/06 and Google is consistently appearing in the 1st or 2ndad position (mainly 1st) for all of the search queries listed above with the exceptions of “start page”, “dining” and “restaurants” which are not yielding any Google Ads at all.

I think many of you are missing the point completely. My concern lies in the fact that Google is trumping top bidding ads with their own product ads. This is unethical and potentially an abuse of power/position. Think of it as “AdWord insider trading.” This does not occur on any of the other major search engine.

Sure, I’m free to take my business somewhere else (I’m not though b/c Google continues to yield positive results for us), I understand that. But the point is not about what I’m able to do….but everything to do with the false-sense of security that many naive advertisers (and from the likes of the comments I’ve received, naive users) might have about how the system works.

Update Part Two: Addressing the points and comments about “Opportunity Costs” that Google experiences by inserting itself in the top position.

Presumably the #1 position bid wouldn’t have been “as high” had they known that Google would insert their own ad and make #1…actually #2. Had the person known they were ACTUALLY bidding on #2, they probably would have bid lower. Yes, there is opportunity cost…but more importantly, it’s false expectation and manipulation on behalf of Google.

Update Part Three: Google Responds

The Collaboration Myth
Originally written June 28, 2005.

The myth of organizing, sharing information and collaborating with others has plagued the computer industry since its inception.

Computers promised to organize and classify everything for us. Databases were the ultimate filing system for data and information. VisiCalc organized numbers in unique ways and gave us the ability to do math and accounting more efficiently. Windows allowed us to organize information and files in a visual environment that mimicked our vision of how we organize papers in an office; in filing cabinets. Word processors let us type and revise documents faster and then store them into these virtual filing cabinets.

But, in spite of these advances, we didn’t realize that this was all backwards. We don’t naturally store and organize information (in our brains) like filing cabinets, databases or computers. Our brain isn’t a computer (in spite of it being called the “ultimate super computer“). Instead, we live chaotically and our brains operate chaotically. We store information randomly. We recall and process information through random word associations, names, dates, events, scents and emotions and vague intuitions. It wasn’t until the maturity of Search that a medium finally started to mimic how our brains work and how people live their lives. Perhaps this is why Google (and other search tools) resonates so personally with its users? Search tools think like we think.

Today, the tools available in the mainstream are linear, structured, fixed and unnatural. The tools of tomorrow, online collaboration tools, will be non-hierarchical, rebellious and chaotic – yet, astonishingly natural.

We need more tools that think like we think. We need tools that embrace chaos. We need tools that work like we work and live like we live. When we have more tools that embrace chaos, then we’ll start collaborating.