Saturday, January 31, 2009

The future of computing

About eight years ago I went with a bunch of colleagues from Reed Elsevier to visit the Microsoft campus in Redmond and was treated to a presentation from Rick Rashid, the head of Microsoft Research. The most striking thing I heard him say was that they knew exactly what to build, it was just that it was very hard to achieve. That "thing" was the Star Trek Computer - a pervasive, all-knowing computer with a simple interface always there to help bemused humans. (He's still trying...).

Recently there have been leaps forward in pervasive computing which bring that future tangibly closer. The Google App for the iPhone is one such; pick up the phone, speak into it and search results come back based on your location and what you searched for.

This post points to another giant leap forward. Bring on the Star Trek future.

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404 error pages that work

Smashingmagazine has a feature on 404 error pages which really work, reflecting the site's character and helping disgruntled users to find what they are looking for, even when the site navigation lets them down. The gallery has lots of great examples. Really worth a look.

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Friday, January 30, 2009

Twitter power

There has been a sudden upsurge in public discussion of Twitter prompted by celebrity Twitterers such as @wossy (Jonathan Ross) and @stephenfry (guess who). This has deflected attention away from the hugely imaginative and creative developments which are taking place in the Twitter ecosystem.

There has been an explosion of apps allow access to Twitter and add functionality to the basic web service - Tweetdeck and Twhirl are two such.

But there are much more ambitious things going on: LibraryThing is turning Twitter into a kind of command line for the internet (tweet a book, ISBN and some tags and it automatically adds it to your personal library filling in the blanks with an Amazon search).

The Twitter story is far from over.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Brilliant ad for T-Mobile

Great ad filmed at 11am on Thursday 15th January 2009 at Liverpool Street station, London (hat tip to Steve Clayton.)

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The case for international co-ordination

There were several interesting (for different reasons) pieces in this morning's Observer which gave me pause for thought.

The first was a glib piece on the "plans" for a Google "GDrive" which technology correspondent David Smith says prompts "campaigners [to] warn that it would give the online behemoth unprecedented control over individuals' personal data." It quotes Peter Brown, executive director of the Free Software Foundation as saying: "does it matter to you that someone can see everything on your computer? Does it matter that Google can be subpoenaed at any time to hand over all your data to the American government?"

But surely this is the wrong question. The issue is surely that the world is globalising and the institutions which govern it are out of step with that trend.

In an excellent comment Will Hutton says of the financial crisis:
Nor is there any conversation about how bank bailouts would work better if they were internationally co-ordinated and funded, which is of huge importance to our very exposed Britain. Instead, banks everywhere are retreating to their own backyards.
As the interconnected nature of the credit crunch becomes clear, it is difficult to see how some kind of international institutional response can be avoided. And we now have a president in the White House who looks like he might be in tune with this.

The fact is that for 15 years now the internet has been changing the world and the political institutions have failed to keep up. Copyright law is just one example of how out of step our historical frameworks have become.

Increasingly we need to look for global solutions which reflect not only the rights to privacy but the collective responsibility to build structures which benefit the whole planet. The British Library is warning that we are in danger of losing our collective memories as it laments the increasing difficult of archiving the digital world. The solution is surely to recognise that the Google books project or Flickr's personal record, or the Wayback Machine are all much better bets to keep track of an online world than the individual efforts of national institutions like the British Library. They are more likely to be able to update en masse all files to the latest formats and to keep an increasingly large archive online and available for all.

Probably this will mean some kind of hived-off non-profit status for parts of their businesses, and probably it means putting these efforts under the wing of, say, the United Nations to ensure freedom from political interference. But so be it.

Some national laws look increasingly impotent in the face of the developing internet revolution. Perhaps this weeks Davos Economic Summit will start to address some of these issues?

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Twitter use in the UK explodes by ten times says Hitwise

It has been noted for some time that Twitter seems to be taking off, but here is the proof: Techcrunch shows the Hitwise chart for Twitter traffic in the UK: up by ten times. Time to reconsider your attitute to the love-it-or-hate-it microblogging platform, I'd say!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inaugeration speeches compared

I've created a Wordle for to inaugeral speeches:

Here's Barack Obama's

and here's George Bush's

Spot the difference.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Web 2.0 and the search for a business model

Interesting post on Centre Networks on Web 2.0 business models in comparison to Web 1.0.

I think the post - and subsequent conversation - leaves out one more important business model: selling their cool technology to one of the big services. (It's a perfectly reasonable business model - in a sense it's what the biotech companies have been doing for big pharma for the past few years.)

The path is well-trodden: cool software freely available gets massive traction and a very good press; tech giants buys them to plug a functionality hole. There are numerous examples: Postini (Google secure corporate email), Groove Networks (collaboration for Microsoft), Writely (now Google Docs) ... the list goes on.

Maybe this is an avenue that will close off a bit in the downturn (thought maybe not) but it goes some way to explaining why Web 2.0 companies have sometimes focussed less on business models and more on scale and user acceptance.

So, to the problem of what the Web 2.0 companies should do now?

Companies like LinkedIn who have had a long time in the game (it was founded in 2003 making it a real veteran!) have often had longer to experiment with business models. LinkedIn early on worked out that recruiters would pay for access to the pool of 34 million business people profiles and has moved on from there to build a compelling advertising proposition based on the enormously detailed demographics which are a by-product of the service.

Twitter, to take an interesting example from the ... post, is in a different position. The growth (and influence) of Twitter has been notable (yesterday the service even got a mention on the BBC News at Ten!) but as yet there is no discernable business model. I suspect, with 25 employees and a growing, and very demanding user base (fail whale = uproar) there is a human bandwidth problem when it comes to business strategy, especially in an environment where VC money is forthcoming, and the ultimate option of selling out is still there.

That may have all changed now, so my advice is: hire a couple of smart people to work up some commercial options which add revenue without sacrificing the utility and increasing network momentum of the service. Here are a few starting points:
  • offer a Pro options for the prolific and earlier adopters - Guy Kawasaki surely would pay a few bucks for a special symbol against his name and some premium benefits?
  • consider the options for secure sub-networks in corporations - as the service goes mainstream corporates are looking to use microblogging services but Twitter has the advantage of network size
  • consider how to use the date from the network to build a metrics business
  • ...and so on
I am sure there will be a big fall-out in the Web 2.0 world, but I'm also sure that what we are seeing now is just another phase of the incredible development of the web. After all, after the last big bubble burst, the companies that survived have in many cases gone on to weave themselves into the fabric of out lives - think Amazon and

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Twitter news

Very interesting development born from mashing up Yahoo's BOSS service (roll-your-own search) and Twitter, as reported on Techcrunch. Called Tweetnews it was created by Vik Singh, a developer on the BOSS team, to find real breaking news, and was achieved, apparently, with 100 lines of (opensource) code. Apart from the fact that this is an interesting development in its own right, it is symptomatic of a Cambrian explosion of creativity around Twitter and the broader Web 2.0 ecosystem. It's fascinating to watch....

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Grim views on publishing

Investors Chronical's assessment of the prospects of the publishing sector makes grim reading. IC makes the point that many publishers have yet to reach the optimal balance between print and online (whatever that may be) and that even after the investments in online technology, digital revenues have been slow to build.

In addition, digital advertising, while still a growth area, is set to slow significantly this year. Media research specialist, Enders Analysis, says online advertising will grow at just 2.1 per cent in 2009, down from 20 per cent in 2008, before recovering to 9.3 per cent in 2010.

All sectors are expected to be hit, notes IC.

Business-to-business titles are expected to continue to struggle, while consumer magazines are forecast to see an 8 per cent decline in revenues and a 7 per cent decline in circulation, according to research group Billets. Claire Enders, founder of Enders Analysis, expects a third of all publications - including at least two national titles - to cease publication this year, while Billets expects Sunday titles to fare the worst.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Hinchcliffe on 2009

Social media commentator Dion Hinchcliffe lists his tips for 2009 including:
1. tight budgets will drive the adoption of web 2.0 and cloud computing;
2. internal use of web 2.0 technologies will continue apace, though successful external implementations will continue to prove elusive; and
3. the harsh economy will drive IT and business to align more closely with each other.

Read the full 8-strong list here.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Three steps to significance

Great philosophical post from tech manual mogul Tim O'Reilly where he considers how to get meaning from business. Called Work on Stuff that Matters he comes up with three principles:
1. Work on something that matters to you more than money:
Whatever you do, think about what you really value. If you're an entrepreneur, the time you spend thinking about your values will help you build a better company. If you're going to work for someone else, the time you spend understanding your values will help you find the right kind of company or institution to work for, and when you find it, to do a better job.
2. Create more value than you capture. Microsoft started out doing this - its goal was a personal computer on every desk - but ended up taking more value than it created. Google is creating more value than it is capturing with its goal of organising the world's information. The test, says O'Reilly, will be whether it managed to continue focussed on the bigger goal.

3. Take the long view.
It's hard to see beyond the "small here" and the "short now," especially if you live in a favored place and time. That's why so many of the really important things do end up on the plates of non-profits.

That's why a time like this, when the bubble is bursting, is a great time to see how important it is to think about the big picture, and what matters not just to us, but to building a sustainable economy in a sustainable world.

Great stuff...

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Dealing with 21st Century Economics

There's a thought-provoking post by Umair Haque which has been popping up on Twitter among other places which tries to set out the challenges facing us all in the current difficult circumstances.

Haque, who is director of the Havas Media Lab, believes this is no mere recession but a shifting of the global economic tectonic plates where three things will be found to be true: tomorrow will not be like yesterday; 20th Century business isn't fit for 21st Century economics; tomorrow's market leaders have new DNA.

He goes on to ask five questions:
What is the role of marketing in a world where consumption must slow?
What is the role of distribution in a world where consumption, savings, and investment will accelerate in volatility?
What is the role of production in a world where consumption becomes savings?
What is the role of strategy in a world where the game is no longer about winning more consumption than rivals?
What is the role of innovation in a world where greater investment will flow to reinventing moribund industries?

This year, leaders of all kinds face a single, critical challenge: building 21st century organizations that yield new sources of advantage, powered by new rules of management.

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Saturday, January 03, 2009

End of an era?

Just read a very thought-provoking post by Jeff Jarvis which argues that the economic woes we are facing aren't just another economic downturn (even if a big one) but something more fundamental: the start of a large reshaping of entire industries being wrought by the 15-year-old internet.

Bill Gates famously said that we have a tendency to over-estimate the effect of technology in the short-term but under-estimate it in the longer term. And I think we saw that in spades during the first internet bubble - and will see it again as the Web 2.0 bubble busts, too.

But during that 15 years - and despite the cycles - the internet has been growing exponentially and as hardware has got more powerful, software more intelligent and the network more capable, more and more parts of our lives have moved there.

This is certainly already apparent in publishing: I was struck by the remarks by Trinity Mirror ceo Sly Bailey at last October's AOP Conference that the economics of publishing had fundamentally changed, and that 2008 would become known as a defining moment in the evolution of digital media. This was before the scale of the layoffs being planned was clear: 1,200 jobs lost and 44 titles closed.

Jarvis says he believes the media industry will come to think itself lucky that it was early in the process because almost all industries will go through the same wrenching change as they adjust to the online revolution - but they don't see what's coming because they still think we're just in a downturn.

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Friday, January 02, 2009

A fresh start in 2009?

I've been reflecting about this blog over the Christmas and New Year break. I started it, unbelievably, in September 2005 just ahead of the RBI Editor's Conference on the 22nd. The original purpose was to illustrate a point: that self-publishing using blogging software was powerful, was here to stay, and was a significant threat or opportunity to our journalists.

It was great fun blogging the event in real time and I think it made its point.

Afterwards, though, I decided to keep the blog on and change it's purpose a bit. That purpose is written in the sub-heading: "charting the road from paper to digital publishing". What I have tried to do, with mixed success I suspect, (and certainly at times with erratic effort) is to highlight in short posts what I consider to be significant developments which will have some kind of impact on the journalists and editors of RBI (and other b2b publishers).

Over the past three and a bit years the technology of the web has changed a great deal and for a long while I have been using Google Reader as way of keeping up with events and I found the "share items" functionality an incredibly useful way to very rapidly create lists of linked posts which I think of as important or noteworthy. Mostly I do this as I don't have much more to say in a blog post on the subject, though sometimes it is just to save time, as the amount of ground asking to be covered grows and grows.

Lately I've also been trying out Twitter and have started to use this as a way of highlighting interesting posts or web pages and I now find I'm in a bit of a dilemma. Do I start using Twitter alone? Do I use Google Reader alone? Do I use a combination? In reality I will use both for some time to come, I think, as they are both useful but in different ways, even though the result with be fragmentation of a kind.

I think now the blog has outgrown its original purpose; there are now a large number of my colleagues much more knowledgeable about the web than me and so there is little point in me trying to continue to post in the way I have in the past.

So from now on I'm going to use the blog to post longer pieces on the implications of what I see happening in the technology space and I'll rely on Google Reader and Twitter to create bread-crumbs pointing to the sites or posts which some may find interesting or relevant.

I'm going to broaden the scope out slightly, too, to encompass changes in the social and corporate landscape which are being wrought by the changing technology (looking back, I post about this quite a bit already, so I may as well come clean!)

I've already rung the changes with a simpler, cleaner new look and I'll be looking for ways to improve usability and functionality in the future.

Anyway, hope you enjoy reading the blog as it develops in 2009 and a happy New Year to one and all.

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Twitter as a polling mechanism

This is a nice idea from The Unofficial Apple Weblog - using Twitter simply to poll two different options (I guess you could use more, though obviously the question has to be pretty tightly written!)
UPDATE: If you need an industrial strength way of polling, try Twtpoll

Thursday, January 01, 2009

More power to Google Docs

Robert Scoble has a couple of video interviews with the guys behind Panorama, an OLAP product available through Google Spreadsheets as a gadget. Part one is here and part two here. The second part shows how a free connector for works. Clever stuff, and more evidence of the trouble ahead for Microsoft in 2009.

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