Friday, March 8, 2013

SxSW Edu Recap

I just wrapped up my first trip to SxSW Edu in Austin. This is the 3rd year of Edu's conference with nearly 5000 people in attendance to discuss all things related to Education--a huge growth trend over the prior to two years. The conference was heavy on K-12 topics as one might expect with a smattering of higher ed and general pedagogical themes. It's exciting to see the growth of this topic as well as the eager and engaged audience of teachers, administrators, pedagogical scholars, and those interested in education technology. In fact, the Ed Tech crowd reminded me of the VC crowd that invaded SxSW Interactive in years past. These folks are probably still there at Interactive but have been swallowed by participants there to have a good time, oh yeah, learn some innovative ideas to apply back home.

In any case, here are some themes that I observed at this year's SXSW Edu conference.


  • Personalization was a big theme which is heartening to see. The move toward standardized testing and No-child-left-behind (nearly universally reviled by educators of all stripes) has cemented the one-size-fits-all paradigm of teaching. A number of personalized learning Ed Tech companies were blossoming--among them Dreambox, Edmodo, and InBloom. These companies had lofty hopes of revising century's old teaching approaches in favor of technology-enabled learning paths for each individual. I heard from more than one educator that they were thrilled by this premise but now were stuck with old hardware to host the new software.
  • The STEM movement (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) were well represented with advocates to include Art in there to make STEAM. Some innovative things happening to build STEM skills with Lego having a presence as well as various charter schools. Educators are again eager for innovation here but challenged with shrinking budgets. 
  • MOOCs had several sessions with the heads of Coursera and Ed-X in the Keynote on Tuesday. I'm very intrigued by this model and eager to see how it evolves in the next few years. It was heartening to see that both CEOs were eager to extend altruistic endeavor of extending these subjects and keeping it free. Of course neither needs a way to monetize since they are backed by universities with huge endowments. Neither foresees the inability to get a degree through this means but could see leveraging best lectures at other schools or offering small, private online courses (SPOCs) when requested.
  • Related to MOOCs in the notion of "flipping the classroom" which means to leverage outside of class learning through video and reading information and then coming together in class to discuss, collaborate and dissect. I love this approach and hope that it becomes more widespread.
  • My biggest disappointment was little attention paid to adult or executive education. The Maker/DIY advocates were there but little attention paid to needs of continuous learning after college. Especially since this is a profitable niche, in my opinion. School districts don't have much money to spend and higher ed can get bogged down in bureaucracy and politics before implementing innovative approaches or technology. The well-informed corporation spurs innovation which is all the rage in people strategy circles and collectively have millions of dolllars to put toward professional development. Hopefully this will be addressed at next year's conference.
I'm off to SxSW Interactive now which promises to be bigger and better than year's past. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Avoiding the dynamic pricing trap

Great article in the WSJ on the rise of dynamic pricing. (An additional video shilling a new service called Digital Folio also tagged in the reader comments which I thought was interesting.) Love the WSJ's article title as well: "Coming Soon: Toilet Paper Priced Like Airline Tickets " This trend shouldn't surprise anyone. You may have noticed on your recent excursions to Amazon small pricing fluncuations are present on many of their goods. Most of the time, the price changes are not too alarming one way or the other and don't diminish your desire to buy on Amazon. Right?

And what's sad about this online trend in fluctuating prices (and assuming this is occuring primarly online for non-durable, transaction-oriented goods) is that retailers are now reduced to battling over pennies and dollars for buyers--becuase everything else in the transaction is equal. So it's commodity pricing now. And the belief that lowest pricing will win the customer.

Amazon likely has this algorithmic pricing down to science and is utilizing it to boost revenue based on supply and demand and what the competition is offering (sometimes those same competitors are selling the items through their Amazon's site!) In fact, its likely they can gauge it by zip code and historical data pinpointed to that date. And Amazon knows that their customers are loyal enough not to be concerned about pricing flucutations becuase shoppers are confident they are getting a good value on Amazon (even if the price isn't the lowest) and the Value Halo makes Amazon customers trusting. (It will be interesting to see if Amazon rolls this out to it's other properties like Zappos or Wag. Few ever shop on Zappos to get the best deal.)

So if you don't have the Value Halo like Amazon, tread into dynamic pricing at your own risk. Done right, it's seamless and profitable (on share if not margin.) Done poorly, its a PR disaster and will drive customers away--maybe not right away but eventually. Instead, focus on the Value Add. If  you, dear retailer, are not the lowest price, what else can you do better than others (or most?) Is it easy to compare products? easy to choose the best fit for your customers? easy to checkout? do you offer post sale value? Add the value and the price becomes less relevant in the transaction and the future relationship.

And as others get sophisticated enough to do dynamic pricing, will we see the pricing scanner apps like we  have for airline seats in the futre. Except the scanner searches for toaster ovens or cameras.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Is personalizatoin making us stupid?


The title of this post may be a bit extreme but the point is that with any segmentation, whether self selected or not, does tend to steer us toward things we are more inclined to like vs. those that we don't. See Apple, Fox News, or any other brand people have affinity to. Such is the tenet of a recent Slate article by Jacob Weisberg. I'm a long time fan of both Slate and Weisberg and thought this article was a great read on the tendency for media (any form really) to focus our attention on their agenda (and presumably yours) at the expense of a broad array of information sources.

Weisberg does an experiment of asking 5 different friends and family with different political bents what Google results were returned for 4 different politicians. The results were more similar than different, surprising the author to some degree. However, he didn't mention whether these 5 individuals were avid consumers of online political media which is what Google would have based its results. Got to have the garbage in to get the garbage out, right? In any case, I liked the premise and believe his central tenet is spot on when it comes to media consumption.

For e-commerce, its another matter. Anyone who has had an Amazon account for a number of years and shopped for gifts for others or simply racked up a double digit purchase list can attest that Amazon doesn't forget easily. They will suggest baby products till the end of time if you bought that shower gift for your brother 4 years ago. (Hey, Amazon: how about evolving the recommendations over time so that you now suggest toddler products for that 4 year old rather than stick to baby gift ideas? the subject of a future post.) That just illustrates the fickle needs of the consumer. I may want to read about the same topics over and over but don't necessarily plan to buy the same things every time.