Walmart and Social Commerce.

One of the advantages of being the worlds largest retailer, is ability to take risks where others can’t, or won’t. Risk taking leads to innovation and Walmart thinks it’s worth a $300 million to find out how social and mobile commerce is going to pan out.

On Monday Walmart signed a definitive agreement to acquire Kosmix, underscoring its commitment to social and mobile commerce. Walmart plans on using Kosmix “Social Genome” platform to help fuel and drive in-store purchases via social networks connected via mobile devices.

“We are expanding our capabilities in today’s rapidly growing social commerce environment. Social networking and mobile applications are increasingly becoming a part of our customers’ day-to-day lives globally, influencing how they think about shopping, both online and in retail stores. We are excited to have the Kosmix team join us to accelerate the development of our social and mobile commerce offerings. Eduardo Castro-Wright, Walmart’s vice chairman.

Kosmix’s innovative technology platform searches and analyzes connections in real-time data streams to deliver highly personalized insights to users. The platform powers TweetBeat, a real-time social media filter for live events with more than five million visits last month;, a site to discover social content by topic; and RightHealth, one of the top three health and medical information sites by global reach.

Other retailers should be asking themselves what are they planning on doing in the new mobile social space? How they can use real-time data to leverage and improve the overall experience for their customer? This kind of thing is much more complex than a strategy for something like foursquare, and it is going to require building and experimentation with a variety of platforms, which won’t come easy or cost nothing. You have to hand it to Walmart for being smart enough to take the plunge. What will be more interesting is to see who recognizes the importance of what Walmart has done, and follows their lead. The potential here is huge for anyone will to take the risk and go for it.

“The world of social media is exploding and for millions of consumers their social connections matter hugely in their daily lives.  Our work has focused on developing a social genome platform that captures the connections between people, places, topics, products and events as expressed through social media — be it a feed, a tweet or a post. We are thrilled to join one of the world’s largest companies and combine our work with Walmart’s vast online and offline retail businesses.”  Anand Rajaraman, co-founder of Kosmix.

Thanksgiving Has Become a Speed Bump

There used to be this holiday in the United States called “Thanks Giving”. It was kind of a big deal. There was the build up to the big day, the dinner with family, sitting around watching football, and yes it was the kick off to the Christmas Holiday season.

Over the last few years things have begun to change though. Store now have Christmas decorations up at the beginning of October. The holiday season has shifted and is now Halloween and Christmas with Thanksgiving feeling like a speed bump in between. And this year Thanksgiving got pushed aside just a little bit more with a number of major retailers announcing that “Black Friday” shopping sales would begin on October 29. I’m sorry, I think it sucks.

I know the economy is down, and that retail sales for Christmas are once again on target to be off for the 2010 season, but seriously it isn’t even Halloween yet. The New York Times is reporting that retailers including Sears, Wal-Mart and Target are offering big promotions to lure shoppers before  well before Thanksgiving. Sears started its “Black Friday Now” deals on Friday the 28th, and Toys R Us is putting all the items in its Christmas toy book on sale starting on Sunday the 31st, the newspaper reports.

I want Thanksgiving back. I miss it. The holiday is about giving thanks, being grateful for what you have, and giving to those in need. There is something really wonderful about the fact that it is this non-consumerism based holiday. Yes I know people spend a ton of money on food , but the heart of the experience used center around family, friends, community and being truly thankful for what you have.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the rush to Christmas shopping was slowed, and the 4 weeks between Halloween and the third Thursday in November actually felt like a build up to something awesome; instead of a build up to the day things go on sale for Christmas? I think this year I am skipping sending Christmas cards and I’m going to send Happy Thanksgiving cards instead. That is if I can even find any amongst the piles o Christmas cards that have been on store shelves for weeks now.

The thing that is really sad is, if you ask people what the history of Thanksgiving is, what is supposed to really be about, most people can’t tell you.

Bloom Box: a power plant for the home

Today, K.R. Sridhar a former NASA employee will officially unveil what he and his company Bloom Energy have been working on in virtual secrecy for the last 4 years. The Bloom Energy power box.

With the help of an estimated $400 million in private funding, Bloom Energy took technology from an oxygen generator meant for a scrapped NASA Mars program, and converted them into refrigerator sized fuel cell power units that are currently being used by corporate clients like Walmart, FedEx, Ebay, and Google.

The corporate-sized cells cost $700,000 to $800,000 and are installed at 20 customers you’ve already heard of including FedEx and Wal-mart — Google was first to this green energy party, using its Bloom Boxes to power a data center for the last 18 months. Ebay has installed its boxes on the front lawn of its San Jose location. It estimates to receive almost 15% of its energy needs from Bloom, saving about $100,000 since installing its five boxes 9 months ago

Bloom Energy’s design feeds oxygen into one side of a cell while fuel (natural gas, bio gas from landfill waste, solar, etc) is supplied to the other side to provide the chemical reaction required for power. The cells themselves are inexpensive ceramic disks painted with a top-secret green “ink” on one side and a black “ink” on the other. The disks are separated by a cheap metal alloy, instead of more precious metals like platinum, and stacked into a cube of varying capabilities — a stack of 64 can power a small business like Starbucks, or more importantly, a small home. According to Bloom, two units could power a large American household greater than 3000 square feet. Pretty impressive don’t you think.

Bloom makes about one box a day at the moment and believes that within 5 to 10 years it can drive down the cost to about $3,000 to make it suitable for home use.

I can’t wait for the official announcement and press release to see where this going. I think this is one of the more exciting green energy announcements from the last few years. Last Sunday there was a full interview with Bloom Energy on 60 Minutes. You can see the video here.

Eye-Fi SD Cards For Your Digital Camera

If you are the kind of person that likes to share your digital photos and you don’t have an Eye-Fi card yet, you are missing out.  I bought one a couple months back, and I love it.

The Eye-Fi card is a wireless memory card. It looks and stores media just like a regular SD/SDHC card, and it fits into any camera that supports the SD format. On top of that, the Eye-Fi card has built-in Wi-Fi that uses your wireless network to effortlessly transfer photos and videos via  WiFi to your computer. The card allows up to 32 networks which can be added to the system, so you are not bound to using just your home network.

Set up of the card is simple. During the quick set-up, I was asked to customize where I wanted my photos sent. Then the Eye-Fi software allowed me to choose not only my computer, but gave me more than 25 photo sharing sites that I can send to as well. (Flickr,Fotoki, Facebook, Twitter, MobileMe, YouTube, Webshots, Snapfish, Picasa, Typepad, DotPhoto, Costco, PhotoBucket, Ritz, Walmart, Kodak, Walgreens etc.) Allowing me to instantly upload images to social networking sites or order prints through partners that print hard copies. During set up, you can customize not just where media is being sent, but how you want it organized. You can preset album names, tags, descriptions, and even privacy preferences on certain sharing sites.

The card I am using is the Eye-Fi Pro which allows me to hit any open Wifi Hot spot like McDonalds, or Starbucks for instance, and it allows me to set up Wifi networks for places that I go to on a frequent basis that have free WiFi which is great. It also has RAW support and an 8 gig capacity which is a must. at 150 bucks the cost is a bit more, but I think it is worth it. The entry-level cards don’t have hot spot access which sort of limits the card functionality. It’s not that hard to plug your camera in and download the photos if you are at home.

One thing I have been playing with and plan to use on the Trip to France this spring is the Geotagging feature. When used with iPhoto, it sorts the images into locations where they were shot. So if you are wanting to put together a travel log with your photos, it organizes them for you. Photos imported into iPhoto can be made into a photobook, and since they’re automatically geotagged, inserting a map of your trip is just one click away.
My only real gripe witht he card right now is limited camera compatibility. While Eye-Fi is making headway and adding new cameras all the time, This card doesn’t work with my Lumix, or EP1 so I am having to use it with an older Canon point and shoot that is not my favorite camera to work with. Hopefully as this product gains traction in the market, Eye-Fi will get all camera brands on the compatibilty list.

At CES Eye-Fi announced  new Eye-Fi software, available for download to all Eye-Fi users at the end of January, features improvements on existing popular Eye-Fi software functionality as well as brand new sharing capabilities. By popular demand: viewing photo & video uploads by date with a nifty calendar and viewing uploaded items in large format. New & improved: republishing items to different sharing sites (eg upload to Flickr, then to Facebook); creating a batch from multiple sources (eg a few Eye-Fi’s items, your photo library, any folder on your hard drive…). The website has little info about the software now, so I’ll be curious in a couple of weeks to see the full feature set.