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“When Western banking collapsed, one sector should have escaped unscathed: Islamic banking,” says Mohammad Saeed Rahman, chairman of a US-based think tank, the Institute for Halal Investing.

But from Mecca to Malaysia, the world’s Islamic bankers were paralysed and failed to take advantage of the opportunity.

And now Dubai’s debt problems have soured the sector’s image, with property developer Nakheel asking for the trading of some of its Islamic bonds to be suspended.

So what happened?

At that time, the world needed another hero. A way of doing business that was free from rampant speculation, free from excessive risk and was banking back-to-basics – taking deposits from savers and lending to borrowers for a profit.

Arising from the glittering new cities of the East, primarily Dubai and Singapore, was the champion of Islamic banking.

Faith in finance

“Technically, Islamic banks should have sidestepped the falling grand piano,” says the Institute for Halal Investing’s Mr Rahman.

“The industry was not allowed exposure to CDOs, derivative products and the kind of intra-financial counterparty risk that crippled the conventional banks.

“It couldn’t play the sub-prime mortgage game, was backed by real money in the form of petro-dollars and manufacturing export receipts. It was simple, straightforward banking.”

The two main principles of Islamic banking are an avoidance of interest and an avoidance of uncertainty.

Islamic economics is a well-documented system, practiced by the Prophet Mohammed, a merchant, and his companions. The core of the Islamic economic system is an avoidance of usury.

Islam is not anti-moneymaking. In fact, the Thatcherite dogma of self-reliance and entrepreneurship is championed in the Islamic sacred book, the Koran.

What is discouraged is making money from money.

Risk-sharing and trading is the central tenet of Islamic economics.

The financial institution goes into partnership with the borrower and both share from the profits of the venture. It is very similar in approach to private equity.

Principle and practice

The other prohibition is an avoidance of uncertainty or gambling. If Islamic economics had been at the centre of the global financial system, the type of speculation that has led to the emergence of bubbles and then runs on stock would not have occurred.

Finally, the need to have all lending fully covered by cash deposits, and the risk management that this would entail, would have never seen the emergence of sub-prime lending.

Conceivably, such a system, based on ethics and principles of fairness, could have created a “third way” between control-style and free-market economics.

However, principle is a long way from practice, and Islamic bankers are no more and no less greedy than conventional bankers.

The modern Islamic banking industry is very much in its infancy, with a history of less than 40 years.

But in an attempt to compete with the conventional finance industry – its fees, its bonuses – much of the modern Islamic finance industry has aped the practice of the conventional.

Sharia opportunities

Arguably, the modern Islamic finance industry and its cohorts of scholars, who give the official religious seal of appeal to the products of finance firms, have been set up to circumvent the principles of Sharia law.

Scholars and bankers have become more and more sophisticated in finding ways to get around the prohibition of interest and of uncertainty – and create a shadow of the conventional finance system.

“Both share the same material goals and adopt the same institutional structures, with the result that the products promoted by the Islamic finance industry are often indistinguishable from those of interest-based institutions,” says Tarek El Diwany, an analyst for London-based Sharia finance consultancy, Zest Advisory.

He explains that a serious and nimble response to these concerns is often hindered by a lack of intellectual honesty within the Islamic finance industry itself.

Platforms are rarely provided to scholars who wish to take one step back and question some of the fundamental concepts that are being applied.

Few questions are raised regarding the validity of Islamic debt financing, limited liability structures, speculative methods of market trading or the nature of the monetary system.

Such matters are given little attention in the headlong rush to copy interest-based methodologies.

Money trap

This has resulted in a number of embarrassing paradoxes.

For example, while some Islamic investment managers attempt to develop Sharia-compliant short-selling techniques, several Western authorities are banning the practice, on account of the instability that it causes.

The missed opportunity for Islamic finance is that in the “sunshine years” when all assets seemed to be heading northwards, the industry morphed into a soft version of the conventional industry and became vulnerable to the same systemic failures.

The Islamic banks and the Islamic bonds they issue will default, and are doing so as we speak.

The banks, and the governments that finance them, have fallen into the trap of creating money and then making money from it and will suffer from boom and bust.

For Islamic finance to step into the mainstream and offer a third way, there will have to be a reconsideration of the objectives, institutional frameworks and contractual methodologies of the modern Islamic banking and finance industry.

This effort must encompass the full range of technical and scholarly opinion, and it must have sincere political support.

Soberingly, “Christian” banking started off prohibiting usury and evolved into the Wall Street and City we know today. Islamic finance must try to avoid doing the same before the process becomes irreversible.

Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/8388644.stm

Last summer, my American Airlines flight from San Francisco to Miami was diverted to Los Angeles for mechanical problems. By the time the plane finally arrived in Miami — five hours late — many passengers, including me, had missed their connections to South America. American knew, of course, what each person had paid for the ticket and their frequent-flyer customer value status. But everyone was treated exactly the same as they left the plane in the middle of the night — that is, badly: no hotel vouchers, no help with luggage that had been checked through (and locked up). It didn’t matter if you had paid more than $10,000 for a round-trip ticket to Sao Paulo or a few hundred dollars for a domestic coach ticket.

With the number of airline-issued credit cards, grocery-store club cards, department-store credit cards, and reward accounts with hotels, airlines, and car-rental agencies, companies have tons of information about their customers and their purchase patterns. But almost no companies use that data strategically. By “strategically” I mean using information to identify their most profitable customers and figure out, by running experiments, what to do to capture a larger share of the customers’ expenditures on a given category of product or service.

When I told my story to Gary Loveman, CEO of Harrah’s Entertainment, he was not surprised. Under Loveman’s leadership, Harrah’s has become famous for pioneering the use of customer data to drive remarkable business results. By improving the service experience for everyone — through reducing turnover and paying employee bonuses for improvements in customer satisfaction — the company was able to get customers to spend more money playing the same games in facilities that were not nearly as beautiful as the competition’s. Why? Harrah’s ensured that its most valuable customers were well-looked after.

Loveman noted that grocery stores and airlines, as two examples, give rewards and discounts to people based on their past buying behavior. But they almost never use those rewards to drive incremental purchase activity — thereby essentially wasting their money. He also noted that precious few organizations regularly run experiments — for instance, trying different ways of recovering from service problems and seeing how each affects subsequent purchase behavior and customer loyalty.

Why so little use of information? As Usama Fayyad, former chief data officer at Yahoo! commented, most senior leaders don’t see data as a strategic resource and competitive weapon but just as part of the boring IT infrastructure, something IBM handles. Both Fayyad and Loveman recognize that a company’s ability to use information to gain competitive leverage is not about having data warehouses and data analysis software — that’s necessary but largely insufficient for achieving business results. Instead, gaining strategic advantage entails:

1. Recognizing the potential to use information to gain business intelligence;

2. Asking intelligent questions of the data;

3. Using the data to segment your customers so you can treat them differently on a moment-to-moment basis; and

4. Running and analyzing experiments to continuously learn how to make your marketing more effective.

This year, my two trips to South America for consulting gigs won’t be on American. If I’m not going to get much for my platinum status, I might as well try a different carrier. Another customer lost — but I don’t think American Airlines will even notice. This lack of attention to customer data is one of the reasons that U.S. airlines, grocery stores, and other companies have such poor financial results.

Source: http://www.blogs.bnet.com

To Bolivia’s president, it’s the great silvery-white hope. Lithium, the lightest metal. Half the density of water. Used in cell phone, laptop and iPod batteries, and in the years to come, many thousands of electric and hybrid vehicles propelling humanity into a cleaner energy future.

“Lithium is the hope not just for Bolivia but for all inhabitants of the planet,” President Evo Morales said before meeting in Paris last month with Bollore Group, one of several companies vying to extract the metal from remote salt flats in the poor landlocked nation.

Bolivia has about half the world’s proven lithium reserves, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, and Morales says he’s ready to sink some $200 million into mining it.

He just needs the right partner.

In addition to Bollore, suitors include Japan’s Sumitomo Corp. and Mitsubishi Corp.

But Morales is insisting on requirements that could turn them all away, leaving the remote Salar de Uyuni flats as they have been for millenia — a vast crystalline dry sea, shimmering quietly in the fierce Andean sun.

For Bolivians, economic development and job creation are a must — the partner can’t be like foreign companies who they say shortchanged the nation’s hardscrabble Indians while extracting copper, silver and tin from vegetation-starved highlands. Morales wants lithium batteries manufactured domestically, and even hopes to assemble battery-powered cars.

“We don’t even manufacture a pin here,” Mining Minister Freddy Beltran complained to The Associated Press. “It’s a story that must change.”

But Bolivia lacks the expertise to even begin to compete with Chile and Argentina, which together account for more than half the world’s 27,400 metric tons of annual lithium production. China and Australia also are major producers.

Since his 2005 election, Morales has secured for Bolivians the bulk of profits from their natural gas — South America’s second-largest known deposits after Venezuela’s. Now he sees lithium as a way to create an industrial economy.

“The state doesn’t see ever losing sovereignty over the lithium,” Morales told reporters. “Whoever wants to invest in it should be assured that the state must have control of 60 percent of the earnings.”

A $6 million pilot project managed by Comibol, the state-owned mining company, plans to begin some production next year. To accelerate the process, Bolivia has asked Sumitomo, Mitsubishi and Bollore to join a “scientific committee” to determine how best to mine the flats’ estimated 5.4 million tons of lithium.

“Right now, most of the lithium that is used (industrially) is drawn from South America because it is the easiest to extract,” said Haresh Kamath of the Electric Power Research Institute in California.

Bolivia’s economy is already dependent on mining and natural gas extraction, heavy industries whose contamination is accepted because the profits and jobs are so sorely needed in South America’s poorest country. A battery plant or car factory would increase pollution, but most likely be located in an urban area with at least some infrastructure and available workers.

One possibility: El Alto, the slum around the capital that is a huge base of the socialist leader’s political support.

Extracting the lithium, meanwhile, would plant a substantial human footprint in one of the world’s most remote places, a 12,000 foot high desert visited only by flocks of pink flamingos and occasional tourists. The metal, found in salty water typically just a few yards below the crusty surface, would be pumped into evaporation pools and then trucked away.

Kamath said scrubbers at modern plants can contain sulfur dioxide and other byproducts of processing the lithium, which is shipped as non-hazardous lithium carbonate for use in heat-resistant glass, ceramics and anti-psychotic drugs, as well as batteries.

Marco Octavio Rivera of Bolivia’s Environmental Defense League says he can’t yet estimate the environmental impact, since no details of Morales’ visions have emerged. But he says extracting and processing lithium in the same way that Argentina and Chile do it won’t cause as much contamination as Bolivia’s other mining industries.

Sumitomo supplies Toyota, which now uses nickel-metal hydride batteries in the popular Prius hybrid but plans a future lithium-battery by the end of this year and an all-electric car in 2012. Mitsubishi plans to begin producing electric cars later this year.

In the U.S., Chevrolet’s Volt is to go on sale next year, powered by lithium-ion batteries supplied by LG Chem Ltd. of South Korea.

Mass production of Bollore’s electric car, meanwhile, is planned in Turin, Italy, later this year. The car is designed by Pininfarina; Bollore promises 150 miles on a single charge and a top speed of 80 mph.

The Bollore Group’s financial director, Thierry Marraud, told the AP in Paris after meeting Morales that his company is preparing a detailed plan to develop Bolivia’s lithium industry.

“We told him, ‘For you, it’s better to transform the lithium than just to export it straight,'” he said. “If President Morales wants a car plant, we can help him, Why not? It’s not impossible.”

Spokesman Koji Furui said Sumitomo is in preliminary talks with Bolivia, and feels its chances are good because it just purchased a silver mine concession nearby. Mitsubishi described its talks as more serious than preliminary, but offered no details.

Neither Japanese company has committed publicly to making the batteries in Bolivia, and industry analysts are skeptical.

“Some of the most carefully guarded technologies in the world today are lithium-ion and nickel-metal hydride battery technologies,” said Detroit-based metals consultant Jack Lifton. “The Japanese and Koreans do not export these technologies, not even to the United States.”

Battery-making is capital intensive, highly automated, produces few jobs and requires nearly the same precision as the semiconductor industry. Also, auto manufacturers generally want batteries made near their assembly plants.

How soon Bolivia’s lithium deposits are developed depends on many factors — the U.S. government’s auto industry bailout, whether Chevrolet’s Volt sells well at up to $40,000 a car, and whether U.S. gas prices return to $3 a gallon or more in an economic recovery, said Bill Moore, editor of the online electric-vehicle journal EVWorld.

Other analysts believe gas prices will need to go even higher if President Barack Obama’s goal of 1 million plug-in hybrids vehicles on U.S. roads by 2015 is to be met.

Some demand could be spurred by part of the U.S. stimulus package — $2.3 billion to develop U.S. battery technologies. In his speech to Congress Tuesday night, Obama complained that many such batteries are now made in South Korea.

For now, predictions of a lithium shortage and a spike in prices appear unfounded. Currently, there is a slight oversupply, and plenty of capacity to meet needs during the economic downturn.

“Everything I’ve been hearing from the producers and industry consultants indicates there won’t be any shortage for the next 10-15 years,” said Brian Jaskula, a U.S. Geological Survey commodity analyst.

Chile’s top producer, SQM S.A., says it supplies a third of the global market and says it recently expanded capacity to 40,000 metric tons of lithium carbonate a year, enough to power about 5 million vehicles using current technologies.

It is relatively easy to move and refine Chile’s lithium from Andean salt flats to cargo ships for transport to Asia or the United States. Improving the roads and developing other infrastructure in a remote corner of landlocked Bolivia, however, could take years. Marraud said it would take at least two years to identify the deposits and build a processing plant.

Given these difficulties, Bolivians shouldn’t ask too much of foreign partners, said Juan Carlos Zuleta, a Bolivia-based metals analyst.

“The people could exaggerate their demands and that could, in the end, lead to the business going elsewhere,” he said.

Source: cellular news

Suppose every utterance and facial expression at a meeting were routinely captured and archived in high-definition digital video recordings – searchable and available in perpetuity. Would this be a godsend or a nightmare? The answer is probably HBR List 2009 logoboth, but we’re about to findout for sure. Within a few years, a synthesis of technologies from an array of companies will make possible a “total recall system,” or TRS, that can produce such recordings.

Let’s say you miss an important meeting. Instead of having to piece it together from the contradictory accounts of those who were there, you will be able to log in to your company’s TRS and search a recording of the meeting for the stuff you really care about. Or maybe you’d like to revisit discussions that stretched over a series of meetings and led to an important decision for which you are partly accountable. All the deliberations along the way – advocacy, misgivings, evolving positions – are there for your review. Of course, if the decision turns out to have been a bad one, the record will likewise be there to vindicate or implicate dissenters and promoters alike.

Indeed, TRS is a double-edged sword. A silly suggestion made in a brainstorming meeting might end up on YouTube, Yahoo Video, or MSN Video. Every thoughtless or sarcastic comment could potentially come back to haunt its maker in an HR inquiry or a lawsuit. Recorded content would be discoverable, potentially increasing the already staggering costs and complexity of litigation. Clearly, digital-rights protections that prevent the unauthorized from accessing these records will be hugely important. On the other hand, companies could use the recordings to defend themselves in court. And software programs will be able to dig through the recordings to identify people’s expertise and network ties, making it possible to find everyone who has mentioned a subject of interest, on what occasion, and to whom.

The next frontier is technology that can recognize faces and interpret gestures and expressions. (Does John Doe always twitch when he makes commitments he doesn’t keep?) These capabilities should be available in a decade. Yes, Big Brother may ultimately capture everything we say and do at a meeting, with consequences both good and bad.

Source: HBR

As HBS professor Laura Morgan Roberts sees it, if you aren’t managing your own professional image, others are.

“People are constantly observing your behavior and forming theories about your competence, character, and commitment, which are rapidly disseminated throughout your workplace,” she says. “It is only wise to add your voice in framing others’ theories about who you are and what you can accomplish.”

There are plenty of books telling you how to “dress for success” and control your body language. But keeping on top of your personal traits is only part of the story of managing your professional image, says Roberts. You also belong to a social identity group—African American male, working mother—that brings its own stereotyping from the people you work with, especially in today’s diverse workplaces. You can put on a suit and cut your hair to improve your appearance, but how do you manage something like skin color?

Roberts will present her research, called “Changing Faces: Professional Image Construction in Diverse Organizational Settings,” in the October issue of the Academy of Management Review.

She discusses her research in this interview.

Mallory Stark: What is a professional image?

Laura Morgan Roberts: Your professional image is the set of qualities and characteristics that represent perceptions of your competence and character as judged by your key constituents (i.e., clients, superiors, subordinates, colleagues).

Q: What is the difference between “desired professional image” and “perceived professional image?”

A: It is important to distinguish between the image you want others to have of you and the image that you think people currently have of you.

Most people want to be described as technically competent, socially skilled, of strong character and integrity, and committed to your work, your team, and your company. Research shows that the most favorably regarded traits are trustworthiness, caring, humility, and capability.

Ask yourself the question: What do I want my key constituents to say about me when I’m not in the room? This description is your desired professional image. Likewise, you might ask yourself the question: What am I concerned that my key constituents might say about me when I’m not in the room? The answer to this question represents your undesired professional image.

You can never know exactly what all of your key constituents think about you, or how they would describe you when you aren’t in the room. You can, however, draw inferences about your current professional image based on your interactions with key constituents. People often give you direct feedback about your persona that tells you what they think about your level of competence, character, and commitment. Other times, you may receive indirect signals about your image, through job assignments or referrals and recommendations. Taken together, these direct and indirect signals shape your perceived professional image, your best guess of how you think your key constituents perceive you.

Q: How do stereotypes affect perceived professional image?

A: In the increasingly diverse, twenty-first century workplace, people face a number of complex challenges to creating a positive professional image. They often experience a significant incongruence between their desired professional image and their perceived professional image. In short, they are not perceived in the manner they desire; instead, their undesired professional image may be more closely aligned with how their key constituents actually perceive them.

What lies at the source of this incongruence? Three types of identity threats—predicaments, devaluation, and illegitimacy—compromise key constituents’ perceptions of technical competence, social competence, character, and commitment. All professionals will experience a “predicament” or event that reflects poorly on their competence, character, or commitment at some point in time, due to mistakes they have made in the past that have become public knowledge, or competency gaps (e.g., shortcomings or limitations in skill set or style).

Members of negatively stereotyped identity groups may experience an additional form of identity threat known as “devaluation.” Identity devaluation occurs when negative attributions about your social identity group(s) undermine key constituents’ perceptions of your competence, character, or commitment. For example, African American men are stereotyped as being less intelligent and more likely to engage in criminal behavior than Caucasian men. Asian Americans are stereotyped as technically competent, but lacking in the social skills required to lead effectively. Working mothers are stereotyped as being less committed to their profession and less loyal to their employing organizations. All of these stereotypes pose obstacles for creating a positive professional image.

Even positive stereotypes can pose a challenge for creating a positive professional image if someone is perceived as being unable to live up to favorable expectations of their social identity group(s). For example, clients may question the qualifications of a freshly minted MBA who is representing a prominent strategic consulting firm. Similarly, female medical students and residents are often mistaken for nurses or orderlies and challenged by patients who do not believe they are legitimate physicians.

Q: What is impression management and what are its potential benefits?

A: Despite the added complexity of managing stereotypes while also demonstrating competence, character, and commitment, there is promising news for creating your professional image! Impression management strategies enable you to explain predicaments, counter devaluation, and demonstrate legitimacy. People manage impressions through their non-verbal behavior (appearance, demeanor), verbal cues (vocal pitch, tone, and rate of speech, grammar and diction, disclosures), and demonstrative acts (citizenship, job performance).

My research suggests that, in addition to using these traditional impression management strategies, people also use social identity-based impression management (SIM) to create a positive professional image. SIM refers to the process of strategically presenting yourself in a manner that communicates the meaning and significance you associate with your social identities. There are two overarching SIM strategies: positive distinctiveness and social recategorization.

Positive distinctiveness means using verbal and non-verbal cues to claim aspects of your identity that are personally and/or socially valued, in an attempt to create a new, more positive meaning for that identity. Positive distinctiveness usually involves attempts to educate others about the positive qualities of your identity group, advocate on behalf of members of your identity group, and incorporate your background and identity-related experiences into your workplace interactions and innovation.

Social recategorization means using verbal and non-verbal cues to suppress other aspects of your identity that are personally and/or socially devalued, in an attempt to distance yourself from negative stereotypes associated with that group. Social recategorization involves minimization and avoidance strategies, such as physically and mentally conforming to the dominant workplace culture while being careful not to draw attention to identity group differences and one’s unique cultural background.

Rather than adopting one strategy wholesale, most people use a variety of strategies for managing impressions of their social identities. In some situations, they choose to draw attention to a social identity, if they think it will benefit them personally or professionally. Even members of devalued social identity groups, such as African American professionals, will draw attention to their race if it creates mutual understanding with colleagues, generates high-quality connections with clients, or enhances their experience of authenticity and fulfillment in their work. In other situations, these same individuals may choose to minimize their race in order to draw attention to an alternate identity, such as gender, profession, or religion, if they feel their race inhibits their ability to connect with colleagues or clients.

Successful impression management can generate a number of important personal and organizational benefits, including career advancement, client satisfaction, better work relationships (trust, intimacy, avoiding offense), group cohesiveness, a more pleasant organizational climate, and a more fulfilling work experience. However, when unsuccessfully employed, impression management attempts can lead to feelings of deception, delusion, preoccupation, distraction, futility, and manipulation.

Q: How do authenticity and credibility influence the positive outcomes of impression management attempts?

A: In order to create a positive professional image, impression management must effectively accomplish two tasks: build credibility and maintain authenticity. When you present yourself in a manner that is both true to self and valued and believed by others, impression management can yield a host of favorable outcomes for you, your team, and your organization. On the other hand, when you present yourself in an inauthentic and non-credible manner, you are likely to undermine your health, relationships, and performance.

Most often, people attempt to build credibility and maintain authenticity simultaneously, but they must negotiate the tension that can arise between the two. Your “true self,” or authentic self-portrayal, will not always be consistent with your key constituents’ expectations for professional competence and character. Building credibility can involve being who others want you to be, gaining social approval and professional benefits, and leveraging your strengths. If you suppress or contradict your personal values or identity characteristics for the sake of meeting societal expectations for professionalism, you might receive certain professional benefits, but you might compromise other psychological, relational, and organizational outcomes.

Q: What are the steps individuals should take to manage their professional image?

A: First, you must realize that if you aren’t managing your own professional image, someone else is. People are constantly observing your behavior and forming theories about your competence, character, and commitment, which are rapidly disseminated throughout your workplace. It is only wise to add your voice in framing others’ theories about who you are and what you can accomplish.

Be the author of your own identity. Take a strategic, proactive approach to managing your image:

Identify your ideal state.

What are the core competencies and character traits you want people to associate with you?
Which of your social identities do you want to emphasize and incorporate into your workplace interactions, and which would you rather minimize?
Assess your current image, culture, and audience.

What are the expectations for professionalism?
How do others currently perceive you?
Conduct a cost-benefit analysis for image change.

Do you care about others’ perceptions of you?
Are you capable of changing your image?
Are the benefits worth the costs? (Cognitive, psychological, emotional, physical effort)
Use strategic self-presentation to manage impressions and change your image.

Employ appropriate traditional and social identity-based impression management strategies.
Pay attention to the balancing act—build credibility while maintaining authenticity.
Manage the effort you invest in the process.

Monitoring others’ perceptions of you
Monitoring your own behavior
Strategic self-disclosure
Preoccupation with proving worth and legitimacy

Source: Harvard Business School

Is Steve Jobs dying? Larry Ellison thinks so — the prospect reportedly moved the Oracle CEO to tears. A Gizmodo source thinks his “health is rapidly declining.” For Apple, it could be good news.

Is the persistent speculation about the health of Jobs, a survivor of pancreatic cancer, offensive? Perhaps. But Apple shareholders are not observing such niceties. They are tanking the stock, which dropped abruptly after Gizmodo posted the latest health rumor. Such drops are becoming predictable — and, I think, tiresome for Jobs and the rest of Apple’s board.

Apple spokespeople aren’t denying the rumors about his health; they just keep trotting out the same, predictable line:

If Steve or the board decides that Steve is no longer capable of doing his job as CEO of Apple, I am sure they will let you know.

Here’s a newsflash: Jobs and the board already have let us know, by pulling Jobs from the Macworld conference’s stage for his annual speech. The January keynote, a flashy media event attended by a global corps of tech reporters, requires weeks of grueling practice. And speaking at public events is one of Jobs’s chief responsibilities.

Apple has said it is abandoning the Macworld event after 2009 and doesn’t want to make the “investment” in it that having Jobs speak would present. How I translate that: Jobs’s remaining time is somehow viewed as increasingly scarce, and having him make an exhausting effort for Apple’s last Macworld just isn’t worth it.

The Macworld speech will be delivered by Phil Schiller, a schlubby marketing executive who plays Jobs’s clownish sidekick. Schiller once jumped off a platform onto a foam mat to demonstrate an Apple laptop’s wireless-networking capabilities, the kind of undignified effort Jobs would never make himself. Analysts are expecting Schiller won’t unveil any showy new gadgets, just updates to its existing product line.

Schiller’s no substitute for Jobs. But that’s rather the point of trotting him out: To prove that Apple doesn’t need someone with Jobs’s showmanship to carry on. Jobs may be in perfect health; he may be near death. But either way, a company with 32,000 employees and $32 billion in annual revenues can’t be seen as depending on the fate of one man.

Jobs has, incredibly, created three breakthrough products in his career: the Mac, the iPod, and the iPhone. He has nothing left to prove. And he must realize that the public’s obsession with him, so carefully cultivated and exploited to Apple’s benefit over the years, is now hurting his company. He saved Apple by returning to it a decade ago. He has credible successors in place. Now it’s time to leave.

Source: ValleyWag

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What were the top social media sites of 2008? ComScore came out with its worldwide traffic stats for November a few days ago (so these don’t include December). They are a mix of social networks and blogging platforms. Blogger, the orange line in the chart above, still rules the roost with an estimated 222 million unique worldwide visitors in November (up 44 percent from November, 2007). Facebook, the blue line, is on pace to pass it soon with 200 million unique visitors (up 116 percent). (Note, though, that this is more than the 140 million active users Facebook itself reports—go figure). MySpace is pretty steady at 126 million uniques. WordPress is a close fourth and gaining with 114 million (up 68 percent). And Windows Live Spaces is down 22 percent to 87 million uniques.

ComScore keeps a list of what it calls “social networking” sites, but these include blogging platforms and other social media sites as well. While the audience for blogs is still showing healthy growth overall, Facebook stands out as the social gorilla taking share from not only other social networks but blogs and other social media as well.

Below are the top 20 sites on comScore’s social networking list. It is really more of a social media site list, which is what I’m renaming it for this post. It is not definitive, but it gives a good lay of the land. (Here is a similar ranking from 2007). Note on this list the stubborn persistence of Yahoo’s Geocities at No. 6, the rise of Yahoo’s Flickr at No. 7, Six Apart at No. 10, and the presences of Chinese sites like Baidu Space and 56.com. The real surprise, though, is document-sharing site Scribd at No. 16, with nearly 24 million worldwide uniques.

Top Social Media Sites (ranked by unique worldwide visitors November, 2008; comScore)

1. Blogger (222 million)
2. Facebook (200 million)
3. MySpace (126 million)
4. WordPress (114 million)
5. Windows Live Spaces (87 million)
6. Yahoo Geocities (69 million)
7. Flickr (64 million)
8. hi5 (58 million)
9. Orkut (46 million)
10. Six Apart (46 million)
11. Baidu Space (40 million)
12. Friendster (31 million)
13. 56.com (29 million)
14. Webs.com (24 million)
15. Bebo (24 million)
16. Scribd (23 million)
17. Lycos Tripod (23 million)
18. Tagged (22 million)
19. imeem (22 million)
20. Netlog (21 million)

Source: Tech Crunch



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