Unsung Technological Advances

One truism on Technology is that the initial media splash and the early adopters skew trends by making them seem to have more impact than they actually do. It is often the slower, longer “tail” of a trend that causes the most significant change, even if by then the media has passed the story by because it is no longer “hot”.

Two items happened last week that show a profound technology advancement that is by now ubiquitous and thus rarely commented on by the media. These two items are 1) the vast scope of online gaming and 2) Craigslist and its impact on retail.

While watching the Bears get killed on Sunday during half time, my nephew put on Call of Duty – Modern Warfare 2 which just got released in November, 2009 for Xbox. Already, there were masses of individuals online playing the game – there were over 800,000 users online AT THAT MOMENT. He joined a game, which was simple, and the intelligence split up the team members based on their levels so that the two teams were balanced. It is just amazing how easy it is to join these games and play infinitely, against other human opponents – this used to be hard to do (Dan and I played online a long time ago) and now it is not only a snap but there are hundreds of thousands of opponents ready to play a huge variety of missions at any time day or night. Also, Xbox, which was viewed as behind Wii and PS3, is now a leader in online gaming which is a huge differentiator against the other consoles, while this wasn’t viewed as a critical factor at the time the consoles all emerged.

To say that online gaming against human opponents is addicting is a huge understatement – playing against intelligent and skilled gamers is a big challenge as well as a way to gain status in the online community, because everyone can see your “kills” and ranking. You have the ability to restrict players to your friends or open it up to the whole world. There also is an online chat element, with men (and women) of all nations shouting into their headsets. As a social phenomenon, this will now have significant consequences, in terms of driving people away from other forms of interaction towards online gaming.

A parallel track is the fact that craigslist is now a significant challenge to retailers across the spectrum. This entire dining room set and China cabinet was found online through craigslist for a bit over $1000, which is amazing because this set would be higher than $5000 at retail. My relatives bought this, and many other close friends and acquaintances are using craigslist to furnish their apartments and houses, even for high-end furnishings. If you know what you are looking for and you have time and patience, you can find quality furniture without going the retail route. Another advantage is that you see what you get, while often purchasing furniture means waiting for weeks to receive what you ordered.

Many people are downsizing and moving out of foreclosed homes and this is a way to find about anything right now. There are now many individuals who are getting used to purchasing this way and they are to some extent going to be permanent exiles from the pool of potential consumers for retailers. Ultimately this will have a profound impact on this market, since a viable secondary market didn’t exist prior to craigslist that was available to the masses. Try it yourself – if you have patience and are willing to bid and check it out yourself and find a mover or rent a truck pretty much anything you are looking for is out there, somewhere, on craigslist.

Cross posted at LITGM

9 thoughts on “Unsung Technological Advances”

  1. I write this from a desk purchased on craigslist. When I picked it up the seller admitted that he purchased it on CL and I am likely to sell it on CL in a couple of months when I move offices.

  2. I too am sitting at a desk that was a Craigslist purchase. The desk that was its predecessor in this same spot also was.

    Another good thing about it is you can get RID of stuff fast, if you price it to move.

    I had pretty good desk a few years ago that I had to get rid of. I put it on Craigslist for $50 and it was gone in two hours. Two guys showed up and it was gone. If you price stuff to move, it moves.

    CL is a very major development.

  3. It is good for oddball, long-tail type stuff and hyper-local stuff. The combo of search engines + CL is killer, a sort of synthetic eBay that’s good for items that aren’t worth listing on eBay or are too much trouble to ship (like furniture). I wanted to buy some obsolete bicycle parts that were only worth buying if I could get them cheaply and without spending much time. I googled the model number. The top hit was from a CL listing in my area. A phone call and 20 bucks later I was done.

    An aside: If eBay knew its business it would use Google’s search technology.

  4. The original Xbox was viewed as behind the PS2 and GameCube*. The Xbox 360 was released earlier and is currently ahead of the PS3, but not the Wii. The Xbox 360 may be utilized (played) more often by its owners compared to the other consoles, however.

    Nintendo and Sony both have online gaming, but they were more reluctant to embrace it (particularly in the PS2 days). Nintendo avoided it for the obvious reason that they didn’t want foul-mouthed players damaging their reputation.

    The original Xbox did embrace online gaming and it no doubt helped them, but they currently charge for matchmaking services. That might hurt them in the long run.

    *Possibly, ahead of or just even with the GameCube.

  5. it’s all about cartridge sales, not console sales. there is precious little available for the wii, while the 360 is spoiled for choice. the wii is too underpowered to do much of anything interesting. we have both in our house, but the 360 is where we spend money and time.

  6. It’s funny to see how Americans develop technological means to sell or to give away their stuff while old Europeans put their stuff out for sale on their sidewalks to do just the same.

    I was in Spain recently and I saw furniture in the streets, people selling all kinds of oddities and personal belongings, clothes, shoes, tools, etc. I saw that in France long ago too, but I didn’t recognize a trend at the time.

    At the same time Americans come up with ebay, CL and other technological means to sell, to give away, and to extend the usable life of things.

    (While in Mexico and most developing countries people use things up until you can’t get anything out of it anymore, I mean anything at all).

    So much for a so called throw-away society.

  7. I’ve used Craigslist for buying and selling furniture. I’ve also used consignment shops, sold to antiques dealers, and used an auction house. My desk was purchased from a charity thrift shop. It was donated to them to support their efforts at clean water development in Central America. (They were surprised when I declined a discount.)

    I’d say that if anything Craigslist pulls more business from consignment shops than from retail. The cheap avenues for furniture acquisition have always been there. I see furniture set out on the street with price tags quite frequently in places such as Lenox MA.

    When I moved from Europe I made extensive use of Freecycle to clear out thinks I no longer needed.

    There is extensive labor that goes into getting a really good finish on furniture, and after building some myself I’ve developed an eye for quality and value. Issues of style aside, when one compares quality chairs on the retail antiques market with quality chairs on the retail new market, for example, the quality/price ratio is much higher for the “antique” stuff. You get a better dining-room set for less money by buying the collector’s item.

  8. Jose Angel De Monterrey – The difference in behavior can partially be explained by different population densities. Below a certain density, putting stuff out on the sidewalk makes little sense. The US is much less densely populated than Spain or France.

  9. Carl, I think the success of the Xbox was because of Microsoft’s approach and good know-how in putting a whole online gaming infrastructure for the xbox user and a good pricing, timing and distribution strategy for the console.

    My son had a Nintendo, then ps1, then ps2 for a while and so he already was an experienced and seasoned gamer when the ps3 was released and he was really looking forward to getting one.
    But I was very disappointed with Sony’s crooked marketing, to begin with they started by overpricing their console, the Ps3’s price was prohibitive by any standards well beyond what any parents would be willing to invest in their children’s entertainment and then Sony intentionally used product scarcity as a marketing strategy for the ps3, you could not find them at the stores, they shipped too few of them to really satisfy their expected demand, which in turn led to higher prices, I once saw the ps3 at 1,500 usd in a department store!
    So I talked my son into getting the Xbox and he’s never regretted it ever since. He plays online with kids from all over the world, he just loves it. It’s a great product with a great service at an affordable price.

    The irony of it is that now you can get the ps3 at significantly lower prices than the xbox, and sony has invested a lot on their online gaming infrastructure too, but a lot of users have already switched sides.

    TMLutas – I think you’re right, I didn’t think of population density to explain those differences in behaviour. I tend to think that in general Americans are more tech savvy than europeans, but maybe that would be the subject of another discussion.

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