Explaining Southern California's economy

Shopping for search: Have you tried Duck Duck Go?

Duck Duck Go is search that cares about privacy above all else.

I've been cheating on Google quite a bit these past few weeks with a new-ish search site called Duck Duck Go. I first heard about the site — which operates out of that hotbed of technological innovation, the veritable Silicon Valley of the Northeastern corridor, Valley Forge, Penn. — from its main venture funder, Union Square Ventures. USV's Fred Wilson has blogged about Duck Duck Go a few times. I use other services/companies in USVs portfolio — Disqus, Dwolla — so I was intrigued.

Duck Duck Go is not Google, but that's the point. I'm not sure if it's even really a new kind of search, nor do I think it sells itself that way. It is definitely less fussy, quicker search. I'll let Fred tell it:

[I]t may also be that other search engines are doing things that some users don't approve of and those users are shopping around for a new search engine. If you are in that camp, join me at DDG and see what clean, private, impartial and fast search is like.

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Banking on a Moody's credit downgrade of Morgan Stanley

Morgan Stanley Reports Their Quarterly Profits Fell 48 Percent In First Quarter

Ramin Talaie/Getty Images

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 21: Pedestrians cross the street by the Morgan Stanley building in Times Square April 21, 2011 in New York City. Morgan Stanley profits fell 48 percent In the first quarter of 2011. (Photo by Ramin Talaie/Getty Images)

How do you think it would feel to be cut not one, not two, but three levels on your credit score? All at once? 

If you answered, "Not too good!" then you're in the same boat as Morgan Stanley, one of the last two big independent U.S. investment banks (the other one is Goldman Sachs, and neither are as proud as they once were, after converting themselves to bank holding companies during the financial crisis so that they could get more money from the government). Moody's, one of the three main rating agencies, has said that it may knock Morgan down three notches. It may take other banks, such as Goldman, down two.

This is from Bloomberg:

The potential downgrades, which may raise borrowing costs and force banks to increase collateral, put the ratings company at odds with bond investors, who are sticking with bets that new capital rules and trading limits will make the financial firms safer in the long run. Funding costs have climbed for banks worldwide as Greece’s debt woes roil markets.

“In the next two years, these big banks will be less robust than they used to be, that’s for sure,” Jim Antos, a Hong Kong-based financial analyst at Mizuho Securities Co., said by telephone. “For any bank that has to raise capital today, it’s already very difficult. This makes it just that much more expensive and difficult.”

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Bitcoin: An idea about money borrowed from the future?

zcopley/Flickr (cc by-nc-nd)

A Bitcoin card.

I went on "AirTalk" with Larry Mantle yesterday to talk all things Bitcoin. It was a lively show, made all the more lively by Larry's admission that, like a lot of folks, he didn't know a thing about Bitcoin until about a week ago. I was able to fill him in and field a few comments during the broadcast. 

What seems to blow people's minds about Bitcoin, at least initially, is that it's more of an idea about the money of the future than it is a well-functioning alternative currency today. I guess you could say it's in beta right now. And that means it's picked up a renegade reputation, by virtue of its popularity for buying drugs and porn.

However, in the months that I've been writing about BTC — And trading it! — I've learned that the cyber-currency has a lot going for it. Not least is the extreme sophistication of the process by which it's created. I think there's a good chance that what's useful about BTC could be adapted by government-backed fiat currencies, like the U.S. dollar, as they evolve from being fragments of the 19th and 20th centuries to being the media of exchange in the 21st. 

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GM posts record 2011 profit, with most coming from toughest auto market

Matthew DeBord

Don't think cool cars can some in small packages? No so. The new Chevy Sonic is proof that General Motors can finally do a tiny ride that commands attention.

Good news today for General Motors: it generated its highest annual profit ever in 2011. That's $7.6 billion. And yes, you read that first sentence right: highest annual profit ever. Higher than when GM owned half the U.S. market. Higher than when it was the largest industrial concern on the planet.

This is remarkable for two reasons, one obvious, one not. First the obvious: three years ago, GM had to be bailed out by the taxpayer before entering bankruptcy. It was under fierce attack in North America from Toyota and others. The future looked, if not completely dim, then not exactly luminous.

Now the not-obvious. Most of GM's 2011 profit came from North America. Some analysts have pointed to this as a problem and highlighted GM's struggles with its main European division, Opel, which it decided to hold on to rather than sell, post-Chapter 11. (Other observers, notably Slate's Matt Yglesias, have complained that all the rah-rah around GM suggests that America is still too close to the auto-industrial business model that built the country in the 20th century.)

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Will online media ever converge?

Engagement patterns by device

Matthew DeBord/KPCC

Media engagement patterns vary greatly depending on what device — PC, smartphone/cellphone, or tablet — the user is employing.

I attended a conference about a week ago put on by students and alumni from USC's Marshall School of Business. It's called "E2: Evolution of Entertainment Conference," and it's designed to bring business, entertainment, technology, and media together. Makes sense, as all four are important to the Southern California economy — and to USC students.

The conference is now in its fourth year, drawing seasoned media, entertainment, and business professionals to USC to provide their insight.

On one of the panels, Joe Perez, who just left an executive role at Demand Media, made an interesting comment. He said that he'd just come across some research that indicated PC, cell phone, and tablet users engage in unique daily online and/or wireless patterns. I've created a simple, some might say crude, drawing (right) that summarizes these patterns:

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