7 tech questions for 2014January 5, 2014: 11:59 AM ET
To hell with resolutions. I want answers.
FORTUNE -- Some people think of a new year as a time for resolutions, others for predictions. Me? Everywhere I turn, I find myself asking questions.
For example, I recently wondered why Jeff Bezos's wife, MacKenzie Bezos, so hated the book about Amazon (AMZN) by Bloomberg Businessweek writer Brad Stone, The Everything Store, enough to give it a one-star review. I answered that question here, and immediately was shown an equally negative review by another big-shot Amazonian, Andy Jassy, who runs Amazon Web Services. That review -- which actually complains that perhaps senior Amazon executives didn't spend enough time with the author -- got me thinking about two other questions: Do any senior honchos at Apple write as well as Andy Jassy, and how cool would it have been if one of them had spilled hundreds upon hundreds of words critiquing my book about their company? (An astute reader might ask their own question: Did you not link to the Amazon page for your book because it would make you feel icky? Answer: No, it's our standard practice not to link to any single book retailer.)
For a while now, I've been asking why nearly every mega-cap technology company -- okay, three: eBay (EBAY), Amazon, and Google (GOOG) -- have gotten into the delivery business in some fashion. A wonderful New York Times Magazine article from just before Christmas that I'd saved to read (in print!) answered that question, at least as far as eBay goes. The article pretended to be an eBay-vs.-Amazon feature, but really it was about eBay's efforts to use its technology to provide services to retailers. (An earlier NYT Magazine article, also about the world I cover, answered another question it hadn't occurred to me to ask: Where did Apple, Foursquare, and others start obtaining their mapping data after they refused to pay Google for theirs? Answer: an open-source project called OpenStreetMap.)
The eBay article contained just a smidgen of information about another giant retailer's strategy by noting that Wal-Mart (WMT) allows customers to make in-store purchases in about 220 of its 4,000 locations, such a tiny percentage that it left me asking why Wal-Mart only appears to be dipping its toes into the physical-store app waters. In fact, the article quoted Wal-Mart's top online executive, Neil Ashe, saying that Wal-Mart plans to be known as "one of the largest and fastest-growing e-commerce companies."
That really prompted the question: How so? For that, I don't have an answer -- but I do have a framework for finding one, if you'll allow me a modest boast. Other business publications hosting tech-industry conferences are forcing attendees to wait until March and October to hear from them in person. Fortune's well-established event, Fortune Brainstorm Tech -- which I co-chair -- is holding a kick-off version Monday night at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. And guess who I'm interviewing there? Why yes, Neil Ashe of Wal-Mart, who now has at least some idea of where my questioning is going to begin. (My colleague and fellow Brainstorm Tech co-chair Jessi Hempel is running a panel with the chief marketing officers of Ford, Adobe, and Facebook. We plan to post write-ups of the event plus video clips and full-length versions shortly afterwards.)
Oh, and I have another question that's been bugging me: What the hell is a bitcoin? I plan to answer that soon, but not now.
Anyway, if I've vexed you enough with all these questions, then allow me to close with an admonition: Have a happy New Year.