Amazon Beat eBay in Holiday Traffic

This is a surprising piece from the New York Times:

For years, eBay ruled the e-commerce roost. Each holiday season, more visitors spent more time and looked at more pages on than on any of its rivals, including It made sense; eBay is a wide open forum for every kind of seller and item, while Amazon has traditionally pushed a selection of products through its network of physical warehouses.

But all that is now slowly changing. Amazon has opened its site to independent sellers, while eBay’s auction model is running into problems with fee-fatigued sellers and buyers wary of fraud and counterfeit items.

Now the latest audience figures from Nielsen Online confirm that the e-commerce traffic crown has changed heads. For the month of December, for the first time, more Americans clicked over to (59,624,000) than eBay (59,374,000).

Despite the slim margin between the two companies, eBay’s visitor count is particularly alarming. According to the Nielsen data, the number of visitors to dropped 10 percent from December 2006 to December 2007.

The full article is here.

Now, in all fairness, Amazon’s rise in traffic isn’t all good news for them.  After all, the GMV (gross merchandise volume) on eBay is much higher than on Amazon, which means Amazon is far less efficient at converting traffic into dollars of sales.  In addition, given Amazon’s overall profit margins, it also looks like Amazon takes more traffic to generate a dollar of profits than eBay, by quite a bit.

Still, this is a really significant milestone for Amazon, and a significant warning sign for eBay.  Amazon’s ability to grow into categories through it’s seller marketplace is now hitting it’s stride, and it’s pretty clear that as e-commerce matures, it will be fixed-price e-commerce, and not auctions, that dominate the market.

eBay has a tremendous amount of fixed price capability at its disposal, but the fixed price market is about trust and convenience, not just about selection and value.   Merchandising and product promotion is also crucial, and these are areas eBay will need to invest in heavily.

Here’s hoping 2008 is a year where eBay hits some new milestones of its own.

Question to Other Bloggers

I love  I love this template.  3 columns, one on the left, one on the right.

There is only one problem that is annoying me to now end:  this template does not display the sub-title of this blog.

It should be:

The personal blog of Adam Nash

Does anyone know either:

  1. How to modify the template to display the sub-title?
  2. Another 3-column template on that has this layout that does display the sub-title?

If you do, please let me know.


Wow. Goodbye Spoons, Hello Hooters!

Sorry, but this was too good not to post.

Across the street from eBay’s “South Park” (the original 8 buildings that have eBay HQ in San Jose) there is a Spoons restaurant.  It’s right across Bascom avenue from Building 0, “Toys”.  Many an eBay employee has jaywalked across Bascom (very dangerous) to get to an after-hours Spoons run.

Well, thanks to Nate Etter, I found this pointer on Valleywag.  The Spoons is being replaced by Hooters.

Now the question is, will they still honor the 10% discount they gave to eBay employees with a badge?  Lunch special?  Spoon tacos were one of the cultural favorites at the eBay South campus.

Adam Nash, Timber Investor

One of the earliest investment posts I wrote on this blog was about why I love timber as an asset class.

I bring it up because this article appeared today in the Nuwire Investor, “Top 5 Recession Investments: How investors can protect themselves in the event of a recession.”  In it, you’ll find the following paragraph about timber as an investment:

Timber is a solid commodity with steady demand that does well during stock market declines because it is not correlated to the market. Its returns reliably outperform the market, and its value increases over time, even without investor input.

Adam Nash, a timber investor, said owning and harvesting timberland is essentially a classic fixed-income investment. The land acts like principal, he said, and the timber acts like a perpetual dividend.

Yup, that’s me.  Adam Nash, timber investor.

So, the backstory here is interesting, and directly related to this blog.

Back in early 2007, I was contacted by one of the journalists working on Nuwire Investor, for it’s launch.  They had read my blog post on timber, and wanted to interview me.  Initially, I begged off, explaining that I wasn’t an investment professional, and I wasn’t sure I was qualified to be an “expert” on the topic.  Still, we ended up doing a 1 hour phone interview in March.

In May, this article on timber investing came out in Nuwire… but no mention or quote from me!  So, I forgot about the whole thing… until the article today showed up in my “adam nash” Google Alert.

Very exciting, and a little fun for the day.  I’m glad Nuwire contacted me.

So for today, you can call me Adam Nash, Timber Investor.

Battlestar Galactica: The Fifth & Last Cylon (possible spoilers)

So, I’m confused. Is the last Cylon the fifth cylon (of the final 5) or the twelfth (since there are 12 models).


Great article today in SyFy Portal. (similar coverage on BuddyTV.) It’s a teardown from the recent Entertainment Weekly coverage of Season 4. They are very clever, and managed to squeeze some hints out of the 2-page spread which is designed to mimic Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper”, except with a silhouette of the last, unknown Cylon.

The trick is, of course, that anyone else featured in picture CAN’T be the final cylon.  You definitely want to click through here to the EW article & interactive picture.

So where does that leave us? From the article (now’s the time to stop reading…):

The photo spread, which can be viewed here shows 12 different characters from “Battlestar Galactica,” and an obviously empty location. That spot, says executive producer Ronald D. Moore, is being held for the final Cylon.

“We have not yet revealed the final Cylon,” Moore told the magazine. When the writers asked if that means everyone else sitting at the table is definitely not that last Cylon, Moore was probably the most direct he’s ever been on potential show spoilers.

“You ferreted that out pretty slyly,” Moore said. “I didn’t want to give that away.”

So who is a Cylon and who isn’t? The table features six already revealed Cylons: Michael Hogan’s Col. Tigh; a new Cylon model of Number Six played by Tricia Helfer named Natalie; Number Six (possibly Head Six thanks to the red dress and Moore’s description) herself; Michael Trucco’s Anders; Aaron Douglas’ Chief Tyrol; and Athena, played by Grace Park. Those who aren’t Cylons, and probably won’t be Cylons at all, include President Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell), Lee Adama (Jamie Bamber), Gaius Baltar (James Callis), Kara Thrace (Katee Sackhoff), Karl “Helo” Agathon (Tahmoh Penikett), and William Adama (Edward James Olmos).

Strangely, my original post on spoilers for the Final Five is still one of the top posts on this blog.

Things get moving again in March.  Enjoy.

Update (4/6/2008): New post online about “Caprica” and implications for the possible fifth cylon.

Update (4/22/2008): New post on Episode 3 of the 4th Season: Ties That Bind.

Update (11/26/2008): New post on Final Five Candidates for the Fifth Cylon (Possible Spoilers).

eBay Top Sellers & Detailed Seller Ratings (aka Feedback 2.0)

I’ve been pretty good about not commenting too much on eBay-related topics in the press over the past year.

Since I left eBay in May 2007, I’ve tried to be careful here on this blog with regards to eBay.  It’s hard sometimes, when you read a column online that is wildly off base, to not want to jump in and “set the record straight”.  Of course, when you work for the company, you tend not to do this because it’s hard to separate a personal rebuttal from an official company response.  Ironically, when you leave the company, you also really aren’t free to respond, because it now isn’t your place to fight those battles.

I read an article this week, on Auctionbytes, about the new Detailed Seller Ratings and the relatively low ranking of the Top 25 eBay Sellers, and I felt I had to comment.

In case you are unfamilar, eBay rolled out new “Detailed Seller Rankings” to their feedback page last year, in one of the biggest enhancements to the feedback system since it’s debut.  These detailed ratings allow buyers to rate sellers on four additional dimensions, from 1-5:

  • Item as described
  • Communication
  • Shipping time
  • Shipping & Handling charges

Seems like an obvious improvement to most buyers.  However, no part of the eBay ecosystem is simple to modify, and there has been considerable angst and discussion among top sellers about this new improvement.

I’m not going to get into the debate and issues that sellers have raised with the new system.   I’m not an expert on the system, and I haven’t read all the arguments in detail.  The fact is, the original feedback system did not gather any structured data about the end-to-end service offered by eBay sellers, and this system is definitely a first step in attempting to gather that data.  For a company that wants to focus on a great buyer experience, this is absolutely necessary.

Instead, I want to comment on the article, largely because of its conclusion:

A study of eBay’s top sellers reveals they rank poorly in terms of the detailed ratings left anonymously by their customers, with most falling in the bottom 25 percent of all sellers for such ratings.

… It’s troublesome to see that eBay’s top sellers perform poorly with DSRs, and AuctionBytes believes the data indicates eBay needs to reevaluate the new rating system and reconsider its decision to use DSRs to punish and disadvantage sellers. It should also provide much more information about the results – on an ongoing basis – so sellers have a better understanding of how the new system is affecting purchasing decisions and sales.

(BTW The article looks at the Top 500 sellers, according to Nortica.)

Fundamentally, I agree with this line:

It’s troublesome to see that eBay’s top sellers perform poorly with DSRs

But I disagree with the resulting conclusion:

AuctionBytes believes the data indicates eBay needs to reevaluate the new rating system.

In response to this, let me ask the following question:

What if the top sellers on eBay, as measured by feedback score and/or sales volume, actually are not offering the best customer experience to buyers?

Too often at eBay, I would see these two things confused together.  There was an assumption that the top sellers, always measured by GMV (gross merchandise volume) or Feedback score got that way by being the best for the end customer, the buyers.  However, in order to believe this, you have to believe that you can only build GMV and Feedback with a great customer experience.  What if that’s not true?

What if the DSRs are telling us that eBay’s “top sellers” are actually offering buyers a below average customer experience?

Well, I’m a just an eBay seller now myself.  I don’t do huge volume, but I have almost 800 feedback, and I flirt constantly with being a bronze PowerSeller.  I have an eBay Store, and I use eBay’s Selling Manager.

My DSRs to date are (based on 81 sales with ratings):

  • Item as described: 4.9
  • Communication: 4.9
  • Shipping time: 4.9
  • Shipping and handling charges: 4.7

So it looks like I’m in the Top 25% of buyer experience on these ratings (well, above median for S&H).

What if these DSR’s are saying that buyers have a better experience buying from me than when they buy from one of the eBay Top 500 sellers?

My Plugin, v0.1

Major milestone tonight.

Spent two hours after the boys went to bed.  Managed to get swizzling working.  I have now completed a Mail plug-in that when installed…

… drumroll, please …

logs out to console the name & email address of the sender of every email you view in

… let it sink in …

OK, it may not sound significant, but that was 1 of the 7 things I have to get working to have a demo of my new Mail plug-in up and running.  I now have a renewed burst of confidence that this plug-in will indeed get done.
Many thanks to Adam Tow, who responded to my previous blog post, sharing not only tips & sample code, but also a pointer to a regular, weekly coffee night for Cocoa developers in Campbell.  I had forgotten how supportive the Mac development community was… this event looks pretty neat.  Maybe when I get to the really tough stuff, I’ll go.

John Lilly: CEO of Mozilla

From John’s blog:

It goes without saying that I’m excited by the challenge of my new job. I’ve thought an awful lot about the role of MoCo (our shorthand for the Corporation) in supporting the Mozilla mission and manifesto, as the coordination point for our work on the platform and on Firefox. We’ve got a lot to do in the coming years, starting with getting Firefox 3 out the door, and then swiftly followed up by our work in mobile and services. Mozilla2 will be a major step forward on the platform after that, not to mention our new experiments in Labs and the work that we’re doing to move the whole Web forward with Javascript 2, HTML 5 and other standards work.

John’s post is here.

Mitchell’s post is here.

Mac OS X: Method Swizzling in Cocoa

It took me about 45 minutes, but I finally think I have this figured out:

Method Swizzling in Cocoa

Basically, it’s the missing piece you need to effectively “hijack” an existing function in an existing piece of Mac OS X software.

To do this, you follow a few key steps:

  1. You identify a method of an existing class in an existing piece of software that you want to hijack, let’s call it “foo”
  2. You then write your own implementation of that method in that class, let’s call it “myFoo”
  3. You do what ever you want in myFoo, but then you include a call to myFoo. It looks like infinite recursion, but it’s not.
  4. You do the MethodSwizzle trick, which basically tells the Objective-C runtime to replace all calls to “foo” with “myFoo”, and vice-versa.

End result, every existing call to “foo” now calls “myFoo”, and “myFoo” is no longer infinitely recursive because it’s call to “myFoo” now calls “foo”.

It turns out this type of trickery is essential if you want to write a plug-in for an existing application, like Apple Mail, where there is no pre-defined API, and you want to take over pre-existing actions and add some functionality to them.

My work on an Apple Mail plug-in is painfully slow, but I’m at least a little further along now.

Spykee Skype/iPhone/iPod Security Robot

It’s funny how your mind drifts to things like this when your birthday is coming up.

This guy can be controlled from your computer, and can pull sentry duty in front a doorway, relaying video and photos to you of intruders, etc.  Very funny.   There is also now a Spykee Miss, and a Spykee VoX.

Full story here.

Statistics Matter: Oil, Dollars, Euros & Gold

Great editorial today in the Wall Street Journal.

Only problem is… despite being a print subscriber, the WSJ still prevents me from accessing their content online. Bleh. Thank goodness for Rupert Murdoch, right? 🙂 In any case, I am still scanner-equipped, so I can share the better points with you.

Check out this graph. Let it sink in.

Maybe I’m making too big a deal about this, but I found this chart incredibly fascinating. What this basically says is that if the dollar had stayed even with the Euro since 2000, then we’d have $57 Oil, not $100 Oil. So an increase, yes, but not nearly as shocking. More importantly, if the dollar was “as good as gold”, then literally the price of oil would have just barely risen at all, maybe to $30.

It makes you realize how much the topics of the day (peak oil, dependency on foreign supplies, etc) are controlled by economic perspective. I’m not saying anything about the quality of those issues, or the validity of those topics. I’m just pointing out the obvious – the sensationalist nature of seeing a high dollar value on oil is likely fueling the interest in those topics.

However, as I read this piece, it made me wonder, really, what does $100 dollar oil really mean? Does it mean that oil is dearer, or that the dollar is cheaper? Or both?

The reason I titled this post with the preface, “Statistics Matter”, is because I realized today that of all the disciplines and fields I have had the occasion to study and practice over the past 15 years, the fundamental concepts that underly the mathematics of statistics seem to always be valuable, if not essential. (In fact, Against the Gods is one of the books I recommend to people regularly). In fact, I’m probably going to blog on a couple other topics this weekend that all highlight the importance of understanding statistics.

The insight here, which is so common it’s almost trite, is the insight on correlation vs. causality. Correlation measures how often when one thing happens, a second thing also happens. The relationship between their occurrence. Causality is literally the measure of whether when one thing happens, it causes the second to happen. The confusion that normally happens is that people assume that correlation implies causality, when in many cases, it doesn’t.

In my Introduction to Statistics class, 15 years ago, they gave this example. Many people with yellow teeth also develop lung cancer. They are highly correlated. But getting your teeth whitened will not prevent lung cancer. Why? Well because there is a third thing, smoking, which actually causes both yellow teeth and lung cancer. Yellow teeth are positively correlated with lung cancer, but they don’t cause it. Seems obvious, but check out in your daily news how often you’ll see reports of studies that demonstrate nothing but correlation. Health fads are almost all started this way.

Back to Oil.

This article made me wonder – is the weak dollar the reason for $100 oil, as this article suggests, or is $100 dollar oil the cause of the weak dollar. Alternatively, is there a third cause, not mentioned, which actually is weakening the dollar and making oil more valuable?

The great thing about economics, of course, is that almost everything is inter-related. As a result, I’ve always found it very difficult to use macro-economic theory to identify causal factors, except in retrospect. (Hence the joke about economists predicting 19 of the last 7 recessions…)

I accept that one explanation, based on the data in the article, could be that oil hasn’t really become more expensive, in absolute terms. It’s the dollar that has weakened, and that makes it seem like oil is expensive to Americans.

Alternatively, it also seems plausible that since oil is a external good that is predominantly sourced from outside the US, and since there has been a historical shift from our oil-producing partners from being dollar-denominated to a more balanced basket-of-currencies, that the increasing demand for oil has shifted the marginal demand for currencies away from the dollar, and towards previously underweighted measures of value like the Euro and gold.

My bet here is that neither of the above really explains the whole situation. It seems likely that there are a large number of factors affecting the value of the dollar and the value of oil, and the end result has generated a falling dollar and rising value for commodities, including gold & oil.

This issue of causality really matters, however, because if it is in fact a weak dollar which is the causal factor, we have very limited policy options. Let me leave you with the summary thoughts from the article:

This piece of the puzzle really worries me quite a bit – if indeed the rising prices we see are a monetary phenomenon, then we are really stuck between a rock and a hard place with the mortgage/credit issues and the weak dollar. What we could actually be seeing is a magnification effect that has spanned across multiple business cycles, each time the liquidity “solutions” getting larger and larger. This time, the liquidity needed may be so large that it’s actually finally breaking the dollar. Not surprising, really, since it’s pretty easy to argue that the size of the US home mortgage market is actually big enough to really matter versus the aggregate net value and annual product of the United States.

It could be that the future has already been written in this regard – the price we’ll pay over the next 5-10 years from the housing bubble will be measured in a weaker dollar. And that will inflate everything, including our most dear commodities, like oil. We may have to face the fact that liquidity may solve market failures that surround frozen credit markets, but there will be a price to pay.

Ugh. Carter Era.

Here is a link to the full scan of the WSJ article.

Hot Movies for 2008

Some light hearted content for this New Year’s week.

I continue to find it hard to get great readouts of the big movies planned for this year, but I found some of them online here. As a result, here is a reprise of my post from last year, with the movies I’m looking forward to in 2008:

  • Cloverfield. 1/18. OK, I missed this one. Monster movie. New York. 1st person account by the guy who brought us LOST. Will see it for sure.
  • Rambo. 1/25. Yeah, not sure I can buy the 60-year-old green beret, but I’m willing to give it a shot given the fact that Rocky Balboa didn’t suck.
  • Horton Hears a Who. 3/14. Are you kidding me? I’m just glad they’ve stopped trying to make dreadful live-action versions of Dr. Seuss, and are back to the serious business of remaking these great, wacky stories. I hope they do them all.
  • Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. 2/8. My “crappy sequel” spider sense is tingling here, but given the greatness of the original, I will give this a shot.
  • Iron Man. 5/2. Likelihood of success here is low, but I’m afraid I’m still going to see comic book movies. This is definitely B or C list for me though.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. 5/16. Yes. Yes. Yes. I still wish they would do extended versions of these for actual readers of the books.
  • Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. 5/22. Wow. Maybe Indiana & Rambo should get together and hash out their Medicare Plan D options. Yes, I will see it. 😛
  • The Incredible Hulk. 6/13. I paid a heavy credibility price for arguing, pre-release, that the original “The Hulk” was going to be good. Hope springs eternal that the movie will match the special effects.
  • Wall*e. 6/27. I’ve liked every Pixar movie to date. But something worries me about this one. The fact that it’s one of the original ideas, but that it has taken this long seems like a bad omen.
  • Hellboy II. 7/11. I found the first one entertaining enough to watch, but wasn’t thrilled by it. I’m actually surprised this generated a sequel. As long as there is no Elektra 2, I’m cool with it.
  • The Dark Knight. TBD. Should be awesome. Please be awesome. This 2008 list is starting to bum me out.
  • Where The Wild Things Are. TBD. I’m surprised this is becoming a movie… one of Jacob’s favorites. Will this work?
  • Bond 22. 11/7. Looks promising, and Casino Royale was good. Let’s hope for the best.
  • Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. 11/21. This is looking like the peak moment for me, movie wise, in 2008. Penultimate movie. Lots of danger that the movie won’t adapt to a 2.5 hour movie. I wish they’d take the Lord of the Rings approach with this one also…
  • Star Trek XI. 12/25. This is pretty risky – a Star Trek reboot movie. New actors for the old characters. Bonus points for casting Sylar in a key role. You are talking to someone who stuck with Star Trek through all four seasons of Enterprise.

Hmmm… 2008 is looking a little tired already…

People You May Know on LinkedIn

Very funny post today on Everyday Goddess:

Seriously, LinkedIn has this has this function where it says, Hey, you might know these people! And I almost always do.

Yeah, they’re friends of friends, but out of all the friends that a friend of mine has, how does LinkedIn pick my ex-boyfriends, some guy I dated, a graphic artist I met at a gallery opening, and the one colleague from a huge past company that I actually do know? Seriously, they’ve got some kickin’ smart technology going on over there.

The truth is, of all the questions I get about LinkedIn, this is one of the most consistent ones. People are just fascinated by People You May Know (that’s the name we gave to that particular application).

One of the things I love most about working for LinkedIn is that the primary problem is all about people – their professional reputations, their relationships, and the activities based on them. We are in such early stages of understanding and capability.

In any case, I thought the last line was funny.

Seriously, they’ve got some kickin’ smart technology going on over there.

Definitely something that every engineer wants to hear. 🙂

And no, I’m not telling you how it works.

Update (10/24/2008): Hi everyone.  This post continues to traffic from time to time, and sometimes fairly hostile comments.  As a result, I’m closing down the comment thread here, since this was meant to just be a fun observation of a user response, and not an in-depth analysis of the feature or social network functionality in general.   This is my personal blog, and I’d rather keep it that way, so please direct any additional comments about the feature itself to the main corporate blog.   Thanks.