Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Vote On Facebook! (It Could Be Your Last Chance)

Facebook's decision to eliminate member voting on policy changes is coming down to what could be the last member vote ever on the world's largest social network. The good news is that it could still be reversed. The bad news? The only thing that can stop disenfranchisement is if the number of votes cast are equal to nearly the entire population of the United States. 

Facebook's pesky democracy problem? Members can vote to reverse a policy change if a) 7,000 people comment on it, and b) one-third of the total membership casts a ballot in an election Facebook is required to schedule. 

Facebook is addressing a legitimate problem with the voting protocol — the infinitesimal percentage of its one billion members that can make a vote happen. But rather than fix that, Facebook has decided to scrap the entire member-empowering initiative. By ending it entirely it has set off a nuclear bomb when a grenade would have done.

Talk about voter suppression.

(Full Post)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Hewlett-Packard, Autonomy and 'Rules of the Garage'

It remains to be seen if Hewlett-Packard's investors (or the SEC and the FBI) will accept a "shift the blame" defense for an $8.8 billion charge it is taking for the $10 billion purchase of Autonomy, a Big Data firm with a big accounting problem that was the landmine in an otherwise unimpressive Q4 earnings report.

For those who missed the news from Palo Alto, here’s a brief rundown: According to CEO Meg Whitman, Autonomy had been billing low margin hardware sales as high-margin software sales and booked some deals with partners as revenue even though no money changed hands. Making matters worse, the Autonomy charge was the second acquisition-related, $8 billion+ write down in two consecutive quarters.

Shareholders quickly drove H-P down 12% to a nearly 52-week low. Now starts the finger-pointing. For his part, former CEO (for 10 months) Leo Apotheker is shocked, shocked that the deal he put together may have been massively flawed: "The due diligence process was meticulous and thorough," he says. Former Autonomy CEO Mike Lynch "flatly" rejects the allegations. An accounting firm that vetted the deal, Deloitte, "categorically denies that it had any knowledge of any accounting misrepresentations in Autonomy’s financial statements." And Meg Whitman, who as a board member voted in favor of the deal, says H-P was duped.

Maybe looking for individual bad actors is the wrong way to think about what’s going on. I think the bigger problem is a more simple one. H-P, which invented industries and a start-up culture based on simple concepts, simply forgot to take its own advice.

(Full Story)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Why Facebook Didn't Tank (Again)

A funny thing happened on the way to Facebook's second lockup expiration Wednesday — it sent the bears running for cover, unlike lockup expiration version 1.0 back in August.

This is good news — but it's not all good.

The good news is obvious enough: Facebook shares not only held their own but rallied — more than on any other day of the company's brief, rocky existence as a public company. Shares shot up about 13%, to close at $23.23. And to emphasize that wasn't some kind of irrationally exuberant fluke, $FB was essentially flat and in line with a slightly down NASDAQ in early Thursday trading.

The bad news is not as obvious: Insider holders of Facebook stock saw the prospect of dumping as many as 800 million shares on the market all at once as a holding opportunity — not a chance to cash in on a windfall that is a significant part of their compensation package.

The "maybe good, maybe bad" news? Strong, counterintuitive performances like this shift the conversation from talk about the stock to talk about fundamentals (see below).

(Continued ...)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

'Black' Day at the Gray Lady

Oh, to have been a fly in the room when Research in Motion Chief Executive Thorsten Heins briefed the New York Times on the face (and potentially company) saving Blackberry 10, due out Jan. 30 and not a moment too soon for the company which rivals Nokia for top prize in the mobile phone "How Far The Mighty Have Fallen" honors.

I flatter myself but also Bits writer Ian Austin by saying confidently that I infer from his report the mood of the room was ... cautiously pessimistic.

How else could these seasoned journalists have processed this Money Quote from Heins: "I don't expect things to get much worse."

It's right up there with "What could possibly go wrong?" and "This might just do nobody any good" and "The check is in the mail."

(Continued ...)