Wednesday, 31 January 2007

The Global Village

Peter writes...

Though separated by two centuries, there is much in this BBC report on Bangalore that will resonate with students of Manchester's rise through the industrial revolution. I suppose, one can even make a very loose historical comparison between the so-called "Microsoft Riot" and Peterloo.


Anyway, my main point in writing is to flag the BBC Technology site itself. It is a great resource, usually leading with the latest technology innovations but then also including pieces written on a larger canvas: Questions like what does it all mean. How are we coping?

Fancifully put, but, is the BBC the church-bell and main square of the global village? Is it the cryer and news-stand? Will it remain so?

Meanwhile, on Bangalore, I am looking for someone to invite me .... !

Saturday, 27 January 2007

Gates, Hurley and Zennstroem in Davos

Peter writes...

Bill Gates, Chad Hurley and others have been talking about Web 2.0 at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Tim Weber, the Business Editor for the BBC News website is there to listen and report. Here is his blog on the conversations. Meanwhile, we mentioned earlier the Google idea that "innovation not litigation" would sort out copyright problems. The said innovation is already happening.

Back again in Davos, Niklas Zennstroem still "striking fear into the hearts of telecom firms around the world", is also talking about the end of "big, bulky networks" in television.

The Very Ordinary Case of Anna Eagin

Peter writes...

This post first featured in Disruption City 2006 where it attracted some interesting comment.

Anna Eagin is aged 15 and a half: Top of the Pops is now dead. MTV and its like are the source of constant enquiry: Can they survive? Anna (favourite bands The Arctic Monkeys and Sandi Thom) is typical of the new generation that don’t need Top of the Pops or MTV. They have YouTube and MySpace. Anna is skilled in both. She communicates with school friends and family using these sites and a variety of others, including Flickr and her blog site. She also meets new friends through these sites. Tonight she is talking to fifteen-year-old ‘SydneyKid’ over in Australia. He turns out to be called James and is into English music and volleyball.

Aged 17 and a half: Anna has become a concerned environmentalist. She has an RSS feed to the BBC for news on this subject. She also uses sources from Greenpeace and other organisations. Her particular passion is campaign for the whale. She enjoys several ichat video conversations with Cath and Mike, two well-known environmentalists in their research station in Canada. She also writes very succinct, poignant messages about the whale on her blog site. She builds up a small but appreciative readership.

Aged 19 and a half: ‘Reclaim the desert’ is the name of a local campaign in Anna’s neighbourhood. The desert in question is a small area of open land that has fallen into disuse. Although it is just behind a row of shops, it features a pretty view to the local canal. It used to be a green site but now cars have started parking there and local market traders store equipment and trailers over weekends. It has become alternately muddy or parched (hence the name for the campaign). Anna can remember when she played there as a small child and joins the campaign, helping to create the website. She also uses her video camera & Mac to record and edit the recollections of elderly people. ‘There wasn’t a romance in the district that didn’t at some time find its way to the small bench there by the canal’ says Betty, aged 71.

Aged 21 and a half: Anna applies for and gets a management job in your organisation. What will you tell her? Will you tell her that her skills (writing for new media, blog, wiki, video) are no longer needed or that they should be confined to her evenings and weekends? Will you instead teach her the traditional art of writing papers and reports (black on white, stagnant paragraph after stagnant paragraph, token colour graphs to liven up the beleaguered reader). Will you encourage her to conform to a culture of formal meetings (the longer and more snooze-inducing they are then the more worthy they must be)? Or will you instead decide that it is the organisation that must learn from Anna? And what will Anna say? What will she think when she encounters staff who don’t know what’s happening in the next department, never mind across the globe? Do you think that she will tell them about Cath and Mike? Do you think that she herself will be bold enough to say that there are lessons to be learned & that she can teach new things to an old organisation? Do you think she will tell them about Betty?

I think Anna will speak up.

She will say, “I think there’s a better way of doing what we are trying to do.”

The next revolution will just walk in the door.

Tuesday, 23 January 2007

disintermediation...can you hear the screams?

Paul writes...

On the thread of disintermediation, it's worth taking a few minutes to look at the fallout from a recent blog posting by Stowe Boyd.

He commented that perhaps the endgame was nearing for the trusty traditional PR vehicle - the press release - and in doing so whipped up quite a storm in the blogosphere.

As we'll discover on Friday, the world of social computing is challenging on many levels and in many domains, not least the media. For one, social computing gives us the opportunity to ask whether we really need all those middlemen...well do we?

Are we not also growing tired of all the spin, rhetoric and misinformation that middlemen help to engineer (and before anyone shouts that is a general comment, not specifically aimed at the PR community)? Why not just let us hear it from the horses mouth? In the case of press releases would the consumer/general public/average Joe not appreciate that far more than some corporate engineered babble?

In a nutshell Stowe takes the PR community to task for much the same point, but focuses on their interpretation/distortion of 'social media'. But should we not applaud the PR industry for attempting to embrace social media even if they are a little misguided?


Monday, 22 January 2007

"I'm in..."

Peter writes...

Do you have an announcement to make? Don't rely on the middlemen, say it direct. Put the source in the public domain.

I don't know if Hillary Clinton is the first Presidential nominee to use the internet to announce the intention to run, but this is increasingly the way of politics. You can see evidence of this over here in the UK and, most notably, through Al Gore.

Does anyone else have any good examples of 'politics direct'?

Saturday, 20 January 2007

If this is mass media ...

Peter writes ...

Jade Goody arrived as the Queen of the Unexpected Celebrities i.e. that sub-cult that rise through exposure on reality TV itself, rather than any other perceived talent. "I am the 45th most infulential (sic) person in the world," she was able to boast. Perhaps it was this new ego, and its likely shakiness, that fuelled her bullying of Shilpa Shetty. It was without grace. It was base. It was low.

But she wasn't the only bully, was she? There was Jo O'Meara, Danielle Lloyd and the Dickensian-monickered Jack Tweed. And then again, there was Endemol, Channel 4 and the team of University-educated programme makers and psychologists.

The horrendously boring show 'Big Brother' is centrally woven around a process of the construction of celebrity. Its livelier twin, 'Celebrity Big Brother' is concerned with the deconstruction of celebrity. Having made Jade Goody, here was the University-folks chance to unmake her. And then, on cue, Jade arrived with her family in tow, her urchin mother Jackiey being the first to be evicted. It was cleverly and cruelly handled by the show's producers; seeing that Jade had a maternal role in relation to her mother, they deprived her of this suddenly by evicting Jackiey, without goodbyes, without opportunity for the daughter to assess her unsteady mother's readiness for the outside world. Jade ended up crumpled and crying in the diary room.

Jade Goody arrived as Queen , to be waited on by the other celebrities, and she left begging for forgiveness. Along the way, bayed by the hyenas of mass media, the Prime Minister and Prime Minister-in-waiting found themselves ensnared in the fate of a few, well-paid people locked in a house.

I don't believe that any University-ethics committee would ever give permission for the psychological experiment that is Big Brother. But the fact that the "contestants" are well-paid, and that they do choose to enter, makes it all right. Doesn't it?

Does it?

If this is mass-media, then what have we to fear from campfire media?

Thursday, 18 January 2007

Look to the past to see the future

Martin writes...

Staying with the Apple theme, I suggest taking the questions put forward in the previous post - How will this play out in Europe? Can Apple redefine the mobile phone industry? How are the largest market players likely to react and defend their position? … and then consider the following clip:

If you were an industry analyst in 2001, how would you have reacted to Job's announcement? Would you have invested in this obscure and unknown product - the iPod?

So, perhaps we can look to the past to see the future?

I don't recommend studying the entire clip, but it is interesting. I personally think it is interesting to see how much the presentation style has changed from 2001 to 2007. And also, how little it has changed.

Wednesday, 17 January 2007

iPhone anyone?

PC writes...

Many think that Steve Jobs is the man. I happen to be one of them, a dedicated follower of all things Apple. You'll be hard pressed to see me without my MacBook Pro, iPod (4g or shuffle) and white earphones stuffed into my lugholes. At home, it's Mac Mini and iMac. I am fully Apple-d up.

This is quite a transformation for someone who spent 10+ years in corporate IT working with Microsofts offerings. I'd never touch an Apple Mac...especially because our CTO had one and it caused us endless headaches trying to get it to work on the corporate LAN.

But that was before the days of (in reverse order for me) Intel Macs, OS X and the iPod. I'm their dream customer...the full iPod 'halo' effect really hit me. Got an iPod? You need a Mac! Cool, where do I sign up?

So, like many others last weeks Apple Expo Keynote was eagerly anticipated. You'd need to have been on Mars not to have heard about the big announcement...the iPhone. A redefinition of the mobile phone industry - a phone, an iPod and an internet communication device, all in one. Great stuff, just what I need...I think.

What followed was maybe unheralded in the tech industry. The iPhone was on the front of most daily newspapers, the hottest topic on tech blogs and covered by all and sundry. Everyone was talking about is soooo cool. You just have to have one. Or do you?

Jobs claims that the iPhone will revolutionise the phone industry and therefore should we consider this to be disruptive or a discontinuous innovation? Can the iPhone really redefine the phone industry?

Let's break it down. A music playing phone with 4 or 8Gb storage. Nothing new...Sony Ericsson and Samsung have these already and 8GB is weedy for music and especially video.

An internet communication device. Eh? You mean a PDA or Smartphone? So, we're talking Blackberry, XDA and the other smartphones. OK, nothing new.

So, with the little we know about the iPhone we can distil that the underlying functionality is far from new. Why the furore then? Well, the implementation looks to be ground breaking...the advancement to digital (in the physical sense) interaction will be a massive leap forward if it works. Apple are masters of the UI (user interface) and nobody comes close to them in this respect so we can expect it to be pretty damned fantastic. But the question remains as to whether it will really work...for technophiles it will, but for regular phone users, business users?

But there are bigger clouds on the horizon, especially in Europe. In the US the iPhone will be sold exclusively through Cingular/AT&T. So, if you want one, it has to be on their network. There's no unlocking, removing the SIM and jumping on another network, so the iPhone seems to be tightly integrated to the carrier. Also, you are locked into a two year contract, whether you want it or not and the phone will cost you $600, not including calls.

How would this work in Europe, and specifically the UK? £350 (rumoured) to buy the phone? Whoah, I normally get mine for free, so how would the network subsidy model work...would it work at all? Are my calls included in that? Can I keep my existing number?

And just how will Apple get themselves into the UK market? A single, exclusive carrier? All the carriers in the UK are tight with the big boys in the phone market - Nokia, Sony Ericcson, Motorola - so how peeved would these guys be if an exclusive deal was made to sell the iPhone? Would the network operator be prepared to jeopardise their existing agreements? What defensive mechanisms will the phone manufacturers employ in retaliation?

So, many more questions are thrown up by the iPhone than it answers (no pun). I have no doubt that it will revolutionise the mobile industry, if only in the aesthetic and usability domains...restructuring the market is a much harder job.

Of course Apple have redefined markets in the past. The digital music industry has been revolutionised largely by the iPod. The personal computer market was in part shaped by the Apple Macintosh. But the phone market is way more mature, way more structured and fiercely competitive. Jobs has a fight on his hands.

So, disruptive. Probably not. Discontinuous. Likely. DO I WANT ONE. Hell, yeah - and after all, this could be Jobs trump card...people will buy one because it is cool.


Tuesday, 16 January 2007

NTT Docomo 2010

Peter writes...

It is, of course, in the interests of tech companies to portray the future as comforting, human and warm.

Let's hope they are right. See NTT Docomo's vision here.

Friday, 12 January 2007

Welcome to the Age of Light

Peter writes...

Maybe it is intrinsic to us that we should fear the future. And maybe, it might seem, that there are particularly good reasons for disquiet over a technological future. For indeed, it may be that one day we have to share our planet with replicants, and that we sacrifice our last vestiges of privacy, to a suite of technologies more intrusive than ever imagined in Orwell's dystopian 1984 . Haven't we already given up some of our most prized manual and intellectual tasks to machines? Indeed, maybe the point is that it is our very rationality that seeds the pessimism. We are looking at ourselves and saying 'help.' After all, aren't we driven by email, overwhelmed by information, chided and nagged by popular media to the degree where we cannot separate our thoughts from theirs, our dreams from theirs. We cannot, actually, even tell what is real anymore, who is real, and why we are being told about this stuff. Its our very rationality that makes us gloomy. We have seen enough.

But then again, let's start again. Let's start again under a different light. It has never been easy. No-one ever said it would be. 'Survival of the fittest' isn't ever going to be adopted as a slogan for a holiday camp. And yet here we are, marooned on Planet Earth and, yes, it's true that it is a beautiful place. But its not an easy place. Ask any chelonioidea if a 1% survival rate is kind. Ask any dinosaur.

Putting it frankly, homo sapiens, has prospered ahead of all other species because of technology. As all children know, we describe human progress through history through the technology that humankind had and could use; stone age, bronze age, iron age etc. Major technological advance always signals the dawn of a new age, like the advent of the printing press or industrialisation. And so it has come to be that for many nations, the 21st century brings us benefits that our ancestors could not have imagined. We have lower mortality rates, greater life expectancy, health care, sanitation, less poverty, and much more wealth. We have education, knowledge, and rights. Emperors and kings would have swapped their lot for that of the most middling in today's leading societies. For the privileges of flight, heating, and mobility, surely even the most determined would have resigned her throne.

So, the serious point is that maybe the information age will be a great place. It will be a great time to be alive.

Can we make this case? Is it possible to be realistic and optimistic?

Of course there are winners and losers at the start of this new epoch. One hundred years ago, Fordism was not in the vocabulary. Now, the company that gave the name is fighting for its life. Like Fordism, many ideas that were once dominant are suddenly contested. New company names like America Movil, Apple, Microsoft, and Google now occupy the stellar positions in business life. With these, through these and before these, new ideas are springing to life bringing new models of networked business, .coms, e-democracy and social computing. The monoliths, the incumbents, even the elected representatives are looking to their foundations. The question is always the same: "By what right are we here?"

For we will see new business models in the new age. And we will see new skills and new interests. We are seeing new ways of communicating and new ways of doing things. We are seeing new things that can be done. And when we look across the whole panorama, we might just be able to call it all a significant advance in civilization. After all, today, we can all speak out. We can all cooperate. Many of the horrors that continue to haunt us are even more brutally exposed. Today, for example, we don't even need a journalist to tell us about the stupidity of war; the perpetrators expose themselves. Yes, the perpetrators expose themselves.

In an age of light things are revealed for what they are.

Can we make this argument?

Can we be upbeat?

This is a very big canvas for one little course! Let's reign it all in and be more modest. Let's just admit that something important is happening. Something unfamiliar is happening. For every link in this blog entry points to Wikipedia. Each one of the links was created by persons unknown, none of whom was paid for the entries therein. Only a few of the linked pages are controlled; in most cases the management of the page is entirely communal. And of course, it is all free to use.

Free-to-use, communally managed and unpaid labour. Now that really is a revolution.