Thursday, 24 December 2009

Google are building an information ecosystem

From SVP of Products at Google comes 'The meaning of open', which is a fascinating insight into Google's business philosophy, and, by extension, a formula for running a successful internet business.

The article has caused quite a stir in the internet firmament with skeptics saying that it's very disingenuous: that Google only opens up some technologies and that, as a listed company, it is obliged to try to dominate and maximize profits through 'closed' strategies, even if it uses 'open' tactics.

Yet, the article does address these points directly: Google's fundamental assumption is that the Internet has a long way to go in terms of growth, and rather than trying to cordon off sections of it, their approach is to facilititate the overall expansion of it and simultaneously create offerings that are compelling not through their market dominance (a la Microsoft Office), but through their cohesion with virtually any other products, and their empowerment of the user. Their rationale for keeping search algorithms and advert creation closed is consistent with that philosophy: to open them up risks people 'gaming' the systems, and not only eroding their value, but also putting personal privacy at risk. To this latter point, Rosenberg also dodges contradicting Eric Schmidt's comment that "only people with something to hid should worry about privacy". Google are not champions of users' privacy, but they are champions of user control - it is up to us to control our privacy.

On the one hand it all seems simply sensible to me, but in this age of short term quarterly stock market results intermingled with 'on message' platitudes to sustainability, and nanny states 'protecting' us from ourselves with health & safety and Legislation for Dummies, it reads like a revolutionary philosophy. Google are trying to build an information ecosystem. Now that's sustainability.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

The cusp of media

So Murdoch says that Google and their ilk are 'content kleptocrats', "stealing" news from news makers. Then we have Google Books trying to "steal" copyrights from established publishers.

It all sounds very similar to Napster "stealing" music from music distributers in the early noughties. That industry has shifted fairly well. Fundamentally, I think, because they realised that 'the customer is king' was not some ropey business school mantra, but, in the age of social media, business critical. Gone are the days when the company is, de facto, better informed about the market than its consumers. In fact, with social media flattening all that marketing persuasion, the savvy companies are realising that they are outnumbered and that trying smother off-message consumers is not only uncool but also potentially very damaging.

While this is all very disruptive to modern business models, think about the raw substance for a minute. A musician creating a tune. A journalist investigating a story. A novelist creating a book. Surely the true measure of value is the time taken to create the content times the popularity of that content.

Content value = creation time x quality factor(copies sold)

This was undoubtedly the case before recorded media: the printing press, the phonograph-CD, the photograph-movie. In fact the historical precedent in the music recording industry was sheet music: have a read about the fuss that recorded music caused the sheet music industry. There's a fascinating case of one industry devouring another and now, decades later, being devoured.

So the modern argument against my little equation above was Marketing. Big bands/authors/movies couldn't be big unless there was huge expenditure on media events: launch parties, adverts, hype etc. The fundamental assumption of that argument is that consumers cannot inherently choose for themselves - they need to be guided by some Marketing Machine that tells them what is cool and what is not cool.

Yet, ironically, the most attentive consumers of any given media/brand/band/author/director studiously ignore the marketing hype in favour of valuing the content for itself - the quality factor in my equation above. Now, before social media, the loudest voice was the biggest, so the attentive consumers could easily be smothered by the Marketing Machine. But now the attentive consumers have the tools to fight back.

I don't know about you but whenever I research any buy online these days, be it books, music, consumer goods or holidays, I always look for the best and worst opinions. So not only is consumer king, but, from the content creation perspective, contrast is king.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Football decisions

BBC Sport - Football - Roy Keane has no sympathy for Republic of Ireland exit - I'm with Roy Keane on this one. The rules state that the referee's decision (not matter how bad) is final. This has always struck me as being completely at odds with football players' (at all levels) attitudes towards referees: they shove the ref, swear at him, shout at him. This is such a stark contrast to rugby, where, at all levels, the ref is rarely given abuse, and when he is the player is dealt with harshly: at least moving the penalty 10 yards forward, and at worst an early bath.

Video refereeing would never really work in football: there would potentially be too many stoppages, or the griping would switch from 'whether it was a foul' to 'whether the ref should have used the video ref'. In rugby it works because the ref only really uses it for try scoring, which can be a messy affair (bodies piling over, or a touchline tackle). In football, the goal is usually much more clear cut: ball over line and in net.

Maybe the solution is multiple referees, like American football. Or maybe simply more powers to the linesmen to advise on referee decisions. Or maybe just more powers to the ref to impose player discipline and command respect. Adversarial team sports are not democracies (unlike boxing, diving or gymnastics), with good reason: fundamentally it's about subjective judgement and timely decision-making.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Apple's Apps

Arguably, the reason Apple computers never took off in the same way as PCs did in the 80's was because you could only use Apple-approved peripherals with your Apple IIe or whatever. So even though there were better HP printers around, or better Sun mice, you couldn't use them with your Apple because they weren't approved. The pro-Apple lobby simply put this down to quality control: Apple didn't want to risk tainting an 'insanely great' user experience with sub-standard 3rd party products. The cynics said that Apple were simply being greedy control freaks. The result was that these 3rd party products became as good, then better than Apple, and users left in droves - they found more choice.

Here we are, twenty-something years later, and it seems like Apple are crossing that line again: their App store vetting procedures are pissing developers, partners and users off. If they are not careful, the open source Android army will simply outflank iPhone apps and push them into a niche.

My solution? 2 tiers: one Apple-approved, one Unapproved, with appropriate disclaimers.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Skype the Social network

How Skype Can Quickly and Easily Become a Social Network (and Clean Facebook’s Clock) : this is an interesting piece on the features of Skype that lend it to being a social network.

It's an interesting proposition, if only from the conceptual sense of having the full spectrum of realtime voice and video to IM to status updates and wall postings to messages and email to bookmarks and recommendations to games and apps, all under the same account, and available from most devices. Tantalisingly close to a fully converged communications platform: no more phone numbers or email addresses, just your name and a whole bunch of privacy settings to ensure that, while you're available anywhere, anyhow, it's only to the right people.

Skype already offers many of those things (I only found out recently that it did games), as does Facebook, of course. In fact, on reflection, the overlap looks so obvious - why doesn't one buy the other? Skype could do a nice client integration with Facebook. Both have their own walled gardens (skype audio/video technology is proprietary; Facebook owns any data you put on there). Seems like a perfect match.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Cell Size and Scale

Cell Size and Scale - neat animation showing relative cell sizes. I believe it was the great Wayne Campbell, of Wayne's World, who said "Whoah! Extreme closeup!"

Friday, 30 October 2009

The Facebook creeper

So somehow I got to this page about new developments at Facebook. I scan through what look initially like the usual tedious release notes, adding a thingy there, moving an icon there... and then I see about halfway down the Open Graph API:-

...will allow any page on the web to have all the features of a Facebook
Page – users will be able to become a Fan of the page, it will show up on that
user’s profile and in search results, and that page will be able to publish
stories to the stream of its fans.

Oh my god. So every page on the web can draw a Facebook fan base. They're burying Digg and bringing a peer recommendation engine to the whole web in one swoop. This is potentially huge: akin to Google Adwords, but based on your friends' opinions, rather than some clever algorthm related to the content you're reading or searching for.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

A broadside on British social etiquette

There's nothing like a bit of Jacobson social polemic. This article by Howard Jacobson gets right to the marrow of the matter of British social conduct.

I was chatting to a Trinidadian the other day, recently moved to Barbados, who was lamenting the violence in Trinidad and Jamaica. He had recently been caught running a stop sign here in Barbados, and found his initial irritation at the pettiness of Barbadian crime prevention give way to an acknowledgement that Bajans sweat the small social stuff because they can and always have. He described a chat with a Jamaican police commissioner where he asked why so many motorbike riders rode without helmets, when the law stated that they must wear them. The commissioner replied that, with 1500 murders a year to deal with in Kingston alone, bike helmet wearing was a pretty low priority.

Jacobson's article highlights the mad contrast of a nanny state that made it success on catering to the whims of its society finding itself unable to cope with the whimsical society it fostered. "Whatever happened to common decency?" is cliched, even by international cliche standards, but it seems to be an increasingly important question to ask in British society. Look to your little former colony: Barbados. Where decency is still common.

Countries' struggle for global identity

While this article in the Times by David Millibank has a generous dollop of political bravado (I could almost hear Land of Hope & Glory swelling as I read it!), it does describe a very interesting perspective: of countries trying to find their place in the globalised world.
Russians getting annoyed with Estonians, Iranians taking to the streets after dodgy elections, Somalian pirates taking on whatever seems to float past, be it yacht or frigate... As we evolve from full-on war to information (media) activism, it seems that both unconsciously and deliberately, most countries are trying to find their global niche. It's no longer enough to have a jostle with the neighbors. As a nation you have to join a pack or risk being picked off or marginalised by one of the other packs.
To me, 'Great' Britain is still a historical term, but that's not to demean it: Britain was the first to industrialise and to globalise. Followers may have perfected it, but there's still an advantage to having done it first, that Milliband does touch on: the relationships and connections that span the globe. In corporate terms, Britain created the market, and while there are now bigger players in that market, they all know who to turn to for guidance about the market.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Botnets: not just big, but all over the place

Botnet coverage in the press typically highlights the scale of some botnets: 50,000+ zombie PCs that bot-herders rent out to the criminal fraternity. This research highlights another intriguing and sinister aspect: botnets that may be used for corporate espionage.

It's like something out of a thriller, except thrillers about such geeky topics never seem to catch the imagination: either too dull for the layman, or too glamourising & simplistic for the geeks.

This is a medieval age of information: there is a vast difference between the haves and have-nots, with all the myths, mysticism, superstition, and intrigues of that era. So where (or what) is our Shakespeare?

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Monday, 24 August 2009

Windows 7 on my netbook

I installed Windows 7 RC on my little HP Mini netbook at the weekend. Installation went smoothly, with most drivers working (except internal mic, oddly enough). Added it to the work domain today - very smoothly & easily. Work's security software hasn't caught up with it yet, so I've got a free one until it does, but other than that I have to say, as a hardened Microsoft sceptic, I'm thoroughly impressed.
It's really quite fast. The XP Home that was factory installed on the netbook was ok. I installed XP Pro on it for work, and it slowed a fair bit, especially with security software too. Still tolerable, though - it only slowed when I was flitting between apps that were each working (ie. XP's no multi-threading).
Windows 7 is fast, even on a netbook. It boots, with domain user login, in under a minute. I've had no pauses when flitting between apps. The Aero preview screens work and move sweetly. It sleeps and wakes in under 10 seconds. It feels light and breezy, but also robust, diagnosing some network connectivity issues very well.
Better than Apple OS X? In terms of usability its just about on par, but OS X just looks more stylish and is usually in a more stylish box with naturally better integration. The startling feat that Microsoft have done is to make this work so well on a non-native, non-'certified' machine.
I hate to say it, but: bravo guys. At the end of the age of the desktop OS, Microsoft have created one excellent last hurrah.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Open-source software in the recession |

This is a nice summary of what's going on in software right now, and the current temperature of open source.
In my opinion it's simply the business manifestation of an old software industry dilemma: is software a product or a service? The answer is: it depends on what you're paying for. As software products have become increasingly commoditised, so software services, with the help of the internet, have become better guarantors of cashflow than clunky product release cycles.

Friday, 3 July 2009

20 GREAT Liverpool FC QUOTES

Personal favorite:
"I will never forget Steve Nicol's arrival in October 1981. Until then, the three Scots already at Anfield, Al, Graeme and me, had been pretty well able to look after ourselves. We had built up an understanding that the Scots were the master race. We would quote historical facts to the English players to prove it. Some of the most important inventions and discoveries in the world came from from Scots, like television, the telephone, penicillin, the steam engine and tarmac. Their names are part of history - John Logie Baird, Alexander Graham Bell, Alexander Fleming, James Watt. Not to mention those other wonders of the world, golf and whisky... Everything we had built up, he destroyed in 10 minutes." (Kenny Dalglish on his fellow Scotsman)

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Definitive numbers on the environmental cost of spam

The numbers are quite remarkable: 62 trillion unsolicited emails in 2008, burning some 33 terawatt hours of electricity, equivalent to the annual output of 3.1 million cars, or 17 million tonnes of CO2, representing 0.2% of global CO2 emissions. On wasted email. Outrageous, right?

But then I think... if that's the waste caused by 62 trillion spam emails, what about all those facebook hours, and myspace hours and inane IM messaging hours, and the 'solicited' crap chain emails and jokes? How much CO2 do they burn? Aren't they just as wasteful as spam email? I guess the best excuse is that if you weren't on facebook, you'd be burning carbon much faster with your car, but that seems a bit fatuous.

In the age of smart machines and a network that can analyse everything about itself, perhaps ISPs should track and charge carbon offsets for internet users. They'd be only too eager to revert to usage-based fees, and it might make users think twice about what they use the internet for, even if we're just talking pennies.
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