GOOG & GOOGL Market Capitalization

Google Finance raises some questions about the market capitalization of Google between its Class A (GOOGL) and Class C (GOOG) shares.

Price: 546.69
Shares: 673.29M
Market Cap: 368.08B

Price: 540.95
Shares: 697.33M
Market Cap: 377.22B

Market capitalization equals shares outstanding multiplied by price. This might suggest that Google's market capitalization is 745.3B, but it didn't double from the split because the share prices were halved. My guess is that the calculation for shares outstanding has not been updated.

Also interesting is the difference between the number of shares. Did Google distribute an additional 24 million shares of GOOG after the split? I suppose that was the point of the split in the first place, to put non-voting stock into circulation. That's 1.3B. That could certainly contribute to the falling stock price.


Google lacking synergy

So Om Malik thinks that Google is out of big ideas. I'm not sure this is true. What he's noticing is a lot of copycat apps coming out of Google, which is a valid complaint. But Google is so big that it can concurrently churn out clones as well as develop unique products. I'm not concerned that their creativity is lacking. What I do think Google does wrong is missing a bigger picture. It's a safe bet that internally the big picture of a massive collection of user data is going splendidly. There is web browsing habits, video preferences, feed subscriptions, and so much more. Add it all up, and there is no limit to the precision with which advertisements could be directed. But externally, users are left with a bunch of disconnected experiences. None of them are exactly wrong, it's just not getting any of the same synergy. Google should take a step back and devote less effort on new ideas in order to solve this. What they really need to do is start folding several of their old ideas into comprehensive products.

Facebook is a good model. There is not surprisingly a fair amount of overlap with Google. But the difference is that Facebook manages to fit everything into one cohesive site. It's an activity stream, and any page is just a different view of that stream. I'm not saying that Google should necessarily adopt the activity stream as a primary concept, but they would benefit greatly from some way to represent its different services in some kind of homogeneous, combined view. Stop making users distinguish between concepts of email, docs, feeds, news, and such. Just present everything together and let people view and create content. I'm not saying these different concepts of data need to be completely forgotten, but they are abstractions that don't add much benefit. What matters are links, meta data, and read/write permissions.

I really thought iGoogle was going to accomplish this. In fact, I formed many of these ideas by misinterpreting an article about iGoogle (not sure where it was, probably TechCrunch). iGoogle is not living up to its potential, but it is a decent start at a true Google suite that is more deeply integrated than apps connected by navigation links. It is a test of modular, uniform JavaScript widgets (called gadgets here) in a useable layout. The main widget displays feeds and resembles Google Reader. Gmail is here too and works fine. Yet it has not caught on. Is this a marketing problem, or is iGoogle failing in some way? Well, both are a problem, but it might be a lot more popular if it stopped sucking so much. For one, the branding and UI are sub par. Also, the choices are overwhelming. It would be useful to be able to share layouts and configurations so that people could instantly satisfy niche cravings for content or functionality, or have an intelligent layout in the same vein as Microsoft's ribbon menu, that morphed to fit your usage. iGoogle's downfall is that it replaces Google's beloved spartan landing page. Imagine if Windows Live replaced the Windows Start Menu! iGoogle needs to slim down in order to wear the home page bathing suit, both in load time and graphical clutter. I think iGoogle may still be salvageable and get closer to some sort of all-encompassing interface. I don't know how active development is on it, though.

Another avenue is embedding more into the search results page. The contextual results with extra facts and functionality are great. It might be interesting to take this to the extreme. What if you could read and write email from the search results page? Currently, you can search your email or the web. Might as well just mix the results together to see what happens. The caveat here is that it has to practically read your mind so that you still get plain search results when you want. This is a serious problem, as seen with the controversial search wiki features. That clutters the interface as it is.

So all Google needs is one more big idea--to put their wonderful apps into one usable interface. Google already has a huge social graph, like Yahoo does, and would do well to capitalize on it. So far, they have been pretty disorganized: Gmail contacts, Open Social, Google Reader Shared Items and the mini-profile that goes with it. All of these provide marginal benefit, but it would be so much better to get one social plug-in that for all of these uses. A few months ago, Yahoo pulled the switch and made their user base into a giant social network, so I see no reason Google can't. Given that you have a clear view of who you're interacting with, shouldn't you have a clearer view of what you're doing? We currently hack existing apps for new uses, such as blogging by email or taking polls on Twitter. But you still have to jump around because not everything is accessible through any one technique. What I'm proposing is to jam all the functionality of different services, in this case a number of Google's, into one page. Widgets (HTML, JS) are the obvious solution, but what would really seal the deal is to have ways for all the widgets on the page to interact and share data. And that is pretty hard and pretty much has to be done case-by-case. Put a map and an image in an email. Put an email and an image on a map (inside another email). Working with the API it is possible to combine data objects in custom ways, but users often don't get a chance like that in the official app. It's a tall order, but it would be incredibly useful to have the best of Google's apps available to use across each other on the same page in an intuitive UI. Mozilla's Ubiquity accomplishes something in this neighborhood fairly well today. It provides a single interface for a number of utilities, such as search, translation, and bookmarking. It's easy to just throw a bunch of things next to each other, like iGoogle, and there are merits to that. But if Google's goal is to organize and display (and create) the world's information, they should figure out how to show it all together.


Jon Stewart is wrong about the markets

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart had an interview with Jon Cramer of CNBC today, as you may have viewed or at least heard mention. While it convinced me that Cramer and his network are not worthy of sainthood, I felt that Stewart had some ideas about stock markets which clashed with my own.
CNBC could be an incredible tool of illumination for people who believe that there are two markets--one that has been sold to us as long term--put your money in 401ks, put your money in pensions and just leave it there. Don't worry about it. It's all doing fine. Then there's this other market, this real market, that's occurring in the back room, where giant piles of money are going in and out, and people are trading them and it's transactional, and it's fast, but it's dangerous; it's ethically dubious, and it hurts that long term market.

So what it feels like to us (and I'm speaking purely as a layman)--it feels like we are capitalizing your adventure, [...] but you go on television as a financial network and pretend it's not happening.
People routinely underestimate risk, and this apparently holds true with retirement plans. These were advertised as safe, but it didn't turn out that way this time. So, Stewart is right that average workers are being treated like piggy banks for investments, and this is wrong. But I see no problem with day-trading "giant piles of money". That's the awesome part of computerized financial markets. It allows capital to flow where it's needed, instantly. Sure, risk can be high, but it's perfectly within the rights of a trader to make investments with his idea of acceptable risk. The capital has to go somewhere, and even treasury bills, oil, and gold are not immune to drop in value. And the workers expect a decent return; otherwise they could have taken the original retirement capital and stuck it in a bank (and hoped it didn't fail). So you have to invest somewhere. When everything goes down, the people and the companies are screwed. Whoever sold earliest in the crash won. The winners may have moved to cash, bonds, Netflix, or Walmart. You may ask, "But who won? Where did all the money go?" I don't know the answer to that. It wasn't a zero-sum game it seems. I suspect most of the money was fake, all the CDS-related* borrowing creating the illusion of more money than was actually issued. Maybe it goes nothing like this:

A: "Sure, I'll pay you the 2 trillion next quarter!"
B: "OK. I'll write that on the company balance sheet."
A: "So, about that money."
B: "Oh, sorry. I don't have it on me, but here, take this CDS, I just created it as a package of a few other CDSs I had lying around. It's just as good. 'Po-tay-to'?"
A: "Yeah, yeah, 'po-taw-to'. But I want 4 trillion next year."
B: "No problem, Mr. A, sir!"

I don't believe that there was anyone who didn't see there was a problem. Real estate values were skyrocketing, coinciding with people over-leveraging on mortages. What many did not know about was the crazy credit default swap fiasco*. The downturn was going to come, but there was no way to tell exactly when, because it is only eventually triggered by someone coming to the conclusion that is about to happen. You want to pull out of an investment when you think it is rising slower than something else, within your preferred trading time frame. If you can stand to be in the market for another 50 years, you might as well stay in so that you don't miss the eventual upturn. But shorter term, if your portfolio is about the same as the Dow Jones or the S&P 500, when it reaches a peak and is about to crash, you would want to get out and switch to something that's not going to fall as much. So, enough people sell, and it's a chain reaction as sellers accept decreasing prices for the opportunity to get out, and the remaining bullish investors buy up bargains (maybe they're just looking for a rally the next day).

Now, I have never watched CNBC, not being a subscriber to cable, so I don't know how bad it is, other than the fact that it employs Cramer, who bragged three years ago about spreading baseless rumors for profit, as shown in a clip during The Daily Show's interview. But is the network really in a position to predict unlikely events correctly and remain believable? Wouldn't it end up affecting the market with its uncanny accuracy? Trading is based on knowing information that will affect the future value of an asset. If everyone knows and takes it into account, the market price will reflect its proper future value.

Or the doomsday predictions come too early and CNBC looks crazy, so everyone stops watching, and the network folds. I'd love to have CNBC reporters be tougher on mismanaged firms, but it already has a formula for what works to stay on the air, so I can't imagine them changing it. But surely I can't be more cynical than Stewart? He's probably not serious at all. He knows Cramer and the rest will never change, but it makes for a nice episode that could boost ratings and ad revenue for the show. (This revelation was found in an unabashed graphical prelude).

But what if all the companies in a sector are corrupt? Say some heavy-hitting strikes a serious blow Bank A's stock price. Maybe Bank B, that's just as bad or worse, is now in a position to buy Bank A. It would almost be better to have two bad banks running around than one. Stewart was right when he said that CNBC is not a regulatory agency. It is up to the F.T.C., S.E.C., Congress/President, and whoever else is in charge, to protect these companies from themselves so that the working class does not have to bear an unreasonable risk. And this includes some unfortunate bailouts so that we can still have working ATMs and get responsible loans. Bailouts are terribly inefficient, but I there are some companies that if brought down today would take swathes of others with them (some say this has already happened). It would also be nice if eventually companies could figure it out themselves, but our trust in them needs to be earned back before they are given the chance. And don't ever let them get too big to fail again!

Jon Stewart is appealing to a populist sentiment that plays well with his fans and others who are frustrated with the poor economic situation. But it would be irresponsible to outlaw day trading, in essence setting a speed limit on money. This would reduce total wealth in a way, since it is can be described as a function of the total amount of capital and the speed at which it changes hands**. Only the person controlling the money and the regulatory bodies can determine what the actual investment should be, and bad choices can and will frequently be made in the pursuit of reward.

*Look it up if you don't know what what on earth a CDS is. Wired had a good article on it.

**Ex. You and your friend each have a farm and pass a dollar back and forth in exchange for 80 of your onions and 100 of his beets per year. If you start passing it twice as fast, all of a sudden you can afford 200 beets. Score!


Facebook Lives

In a previous post, I worried for the health of Facebook but acknowledged its role as a phone book and for possibly becoming the unifying form of online identity. Slowly, it appears to be coming true. People are usually more comfortable with an alias, but there are situations where it's more appropriate to use your legal name.

The Facebook Connect sign-in process is just one click if you stay signed in to facebook.com, which is much more convenient than the redirects and typing involved with OpenID. This is a huge advantage. Also, Facebook Connect is easier to implement for developers. It's quite convenient to have a way to get your visitors' real faces and full names to appear along with their comments with no extra work on their part. People might be more thoughtful when posting under their real name.

You may have also heard that new users are flocking to Facebook. This bodes well for Facebook as an uber phone book. People who haven't met in years can exchange a few instant messages. Facebook contains the feature sets of so many sites and apps that it is probably the closest thing to a Web OS. I could have written this post as a note. Every page and group gets its own message board and image gallery.

It's just too bad that it all has to be under the umbrella of facebook.com. I have not seen any usage of the APIs to make use of all of this communication on the rest of the web. This is partially because Facebook does not allow saving this data due to privacy concerns, and it's not as appealing to query it every time. But it just wasn't designed for this sort of thing. The idea is to pump data in, not to let it out.

So, Facebook is alive and well, albeit not out of the woods as far as turning a profit. It has scaled. The layout and functionality is all there. The people are there and available to talk to. The disappointment is in the apps and API, because these play second-fiddle to the things that really matter. I appreciate the social value of Facebook today, but I would love some decent competition in the spirit of OpenID and OpenSocial. (I say "spirit" because in their present and foreseeable forms, they're just not going to cut it.)


The song that delayed LittleBigPlanet

The publisher found out that it contains lyrics from the Quran. Muslims seemed fine about this, but the game was delayed to take the song out regardless. The song is "Tapha Niang" by Toumani Diabaté.