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Journal

When you’re the product, but it turns out you’re worthless

First Twitter, now Alexa. We are seeing an important shift in the “users = profit” dogma that could have huge ramifications in the tech startup space.

Alexa began the smart speaker race. Alexa units have are one of the best selling products on Amazon. The name “Alexa” has become synonymous with voice assistants in a way “Siri” and “Hey Google” never quite did. And yet, ten billion dollars later, Amazon’s Alexa unit has yet to turn a profit.

People don’t buy things on Alexa, which Amazon thought they would. The interface for paying for skill (app) subscriptions is too complicated and variable. Too few other platorms have licensed the technology.

The net result is a smart speaker, sold at cost, in millions of homes, chewing up computing power every time a wants to know the time, what the weather is, or boil an egg. (Things we already had means to find out or do – you can’t monetise utility when there are other, cheaper, ways to do the same thing).

https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2022/11/amazon-alexa-is-a-colossal-failure-on-pace-to-lose-10-billion-this-year/

For a long time, startups have been able to pull in huge investment to loss making businesses because they have growing user bases. The belief has been that more users equates to more profits, even if the way in which the business will monetise its users is unclear.

Apple were the only business to take a different route, sticking to their model of making money on the hardware, not on some intangible and unknown future revenue stream. They canned their expensive smart speaker as a consequence when it failed to pull in the required sales figures.

Tech startup culture has proved that “If you build it, they will come”. It’s just not guaranteed that they will spend any money.

Legoland

We’ve been going to Legoland for years, but we’ve never been for the Bricktacular before. Bricktacular is Legoland’s November firework display. It’s pretty impressive, not least because you can get special glasses at Legoland that transform every spark into the sky into a Lego brick. It’s an incredible sight!

Windsor Castle

First time visiting Windsor Castle this year. You’re not allowed to take photographs inside the castle itself; practically this is probably just because it would cause huge delays as every inch of the interior is crammed with incredible historical artifacts but I’d like to believe it’s actually because there’s an understanding that there’s no way that the average amateur photo camera snap could possibly capture a true sense of what the castle interior holds.

There is an immense sense of shared history here, of a thread of continuity weaved through the pages of our collective history. Walking the halls of Windsor Castle is walking through time itself.

Get my Gothic on at Tyntesfield

Ah, the annual pilgrimage to Tyntesfield for Halloween. Who doesn’t love a gothic mansion?

This place is incredibly atmospheric, has amazing grounds, and the constant rotation of the huge collection of personal possession left behind by the Gibbs family means that there are often new things to discover.

Just a little trip to Stonehenge

We had a fantastic trip down to Stonehenge a few weeks back. It’s been years since I last went to visit and the entire visitor’s centre has been moved and the underground tunnel I remember going through last time has completely vanished. Now you take a bus; somewhat less Narnia-like but easier on the knees.

You can’t approach the stones as closely as you once could and, somehow, this adds something to their mystery and grandeur. It feels right that we shouldn’t approach too closely, that the stones should be left in peace to dream quietly whatever it is that they dream.

Also new since my last visit was the discovery that the stones were moved from the Preseli Hills in Pembrokeshire, over 200km to the west. What could have driven the people of that time to bring these particular stones here, so far from home?

Baguette Presentation Failure

Sometimes I try to do “cheffy” stuff for no good reason. Like today, where all I had to do was make some baguettes for the kids and throw some crisps and fruit on a plate. What could go wrong?

Well, I thought it would be fun to stand the baguette ends up like rockets or spaceships. “Super Dad,” I thought to myself “Being all creative and making magical childhood memories out of nothing!”

Sadly, the baguettes had other ideas and opened up a little to end up looking like sandworms from Dune. Horrific.

For anyone not familiar with Frank Herbert’s science fiction masterpiece, here’s a real sandworm…

So, learn from my mistake… sometimes a sandwich is just a sandwich.