Microsoft vs Google: Why Karma Matters

In a week when Microsoft unveils its new Bing search engine and Google announced Google Wave, online document company Zoho has weighed in with its own analysis.

Zoho argues that even when Microsoft develops superior technology the developer community and independent companies such as Zoho will not put their efforts behind it because of suspicion of Microsoft’s motives. Take Silverlight: great technology, argues the blog post, but because of Microsoft’s walled-garden approach, it will not attract widespread adoption.

“What could Microsoft do to earn our trust? For starters, they could really support all the web standards on IE. IE is increasingly an embarrassment of a browser and a pain for developers to support. The only reason IE is making any progress at all is the competition from Firefox and Safari and Chrome. I know, IE was once known for web innovation, including AJAX – but that was the time Microsoft was really trying to catch up and beat Netscape. Fair or not, the impression independent developers get is that Microsoft would prefer the web to stay crippled, so pesky applications that challenge their cash cows can stay frozen as ‘online Wordpad’, as Bill Gates put it.”

Internet manifesto

I’ve just been reading a great post from Tom Steinberg on outlining his views on what would constitute an internet manifesto for Government. His basic premise is that the arrival of the internet is as important as (but crucially different from) electrification and the invention of shipping containerisation.

Citing a recent speech by Gordon Brown he argues that the Government is fixated by some of the economic benefits of the internet – cheaper Government service delivery for example – but these only tell part of the story about the change that the internet can wreak.

His recipe for Government is:

  • Give up trying to control central information – the internet will solve identity better than an ID card scheme, for instance, he says
  • Seize the opportunity to bring people together – millions visit Government websites doing the same things; they should be encouraged to interact with each other around them
  • Get new Civil Servants who really “get” the internet
  • Resist calls to bring in powers to give back the powers previously enjoyed by the incumbents
  • Back the best ideas for “being on the side of the citizen” and drive them through.

It’s a well-argued post – well worth a read.

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New principles for economic growth

I’ve just watched a great presentation by the economist Umair Haque which outlined his principles for economic renewal (thanks to Paul Bradshaw for the link). His argument is that the bull run which followed the industrial revolution is drawing to a close and the next wave of growth will be powered by an “institutional revolution”.

He outlines five big shifts:

  1. From exploitation to renewal (summarised as “tomorrow is today”)
  2. From command to democracy (people not product)
  3. From war to peace (connections not transactions)
  4. From domination to equity (creativity not productivity)
  5. From value to meaning (outcomes not incomes)

The video is well worth watching – highly recommended.

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Thoughts on the future of journalism

“Journalists deserve low pay”. That is the incendiary assertion by Robert Picard, professor of media economics at Sweden’s Jonkoping University, made at a lecture at Oxford. The statement is bound to get the hackles of journalists everywhere up, but reading the argument carefully he makes some intelligent points about the future of the profession that are worth debate.

Actually, he starts with that assertion: that journalism is a profession. This is where the trouble started, he says.

The problem is that journalists currently argue that what they do is good in itself – that it has “intrinsic value” in moral philosophy terms. In times past, argues Professor Picard, journalists where much closer to the market – they wrote what people wanted to read and often then went out and sold the newspapers themselves. Now, he says:

It is clear that journalists do not want to be in the contemporary labor market, much less the highly competitive information market. They prefer to justify the value they create in the moral philosophy terms of instrumental value. Most believe that what they do is so intrinsically good and that they should be compensated to do it even if it doesn’t produce revenue.

Journalism consists of three processes, he argues: getting access to get the information, determining the significance of the information, and conveying it effectively. These things provide “instrumental value” – in moral philosophical terms valuable because of what they bring – insight, emotional and intellectual satisfaction and so on.

These are subject to market forces and the changing nature of technology has reduced the economic value of these things as they are all able to be done cheaply, if not for free, by many, many people.

If value is to be created, journalists cannot continue to report merely in the traditional ways or merely re-report the news that has appeared elsewhere. They must add something novel that creates value. They will have to start providing information and knowledge that is not readily available elsewhere, in forms that are not available elsewhere, or in forms that are more useable by and relevant to their audiences.

He concludes:

Finding the rights means to create and protect value will require collaboration throughout news enterprises. It is not something that journalists can leave to management. Journalists and managers alike will need to develop collaboration skills and create social relations that make it possible. Journalists will also need to acquire entrepreneurial and innovation skills that makes it possible for them to lead change rather than merely respond to it.

The demise of the news business can be halted, but only if journalists commit to creating value for consumers and become more involved in setting the course of their companies.

Clearly there big issues here – around the freedom on the press, and its role in modern democracies, for instance (we saw their effects in the UK in recently weeks in the Telegraph’s publication of MPs expenses claims. )

And in my own company great strides have been made in rethinking the role of journalists and working through the skills and technologies needed to allow us to compete in the new landscape.

But Professor Picard’s arguments do merit some consideration and debate, as most certainly we are moving into a new media landscape driven by technological advances and things will now return to past equilibrium.

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Scoble concentrates on the 2010 web

In a thought-provoking blog post Robert Scoble, once the famed “Microsoft blogger” and now working on a new project for Rackspace called Building 43, tries to look forward to what the web will be like next year.

He says he has some thoughts on its characteristics:

1. It’s real time. (“Twitter, Facebook and Friendfeed are all moving toward architectures and displays that refresh in real time, or let you see what’s happening right now. We are at the extreme beginnings of that trend.”)
2. It’s mobile.
3. It’s decentralized. (“Look at my behaviors. I’m all over the place. Six years ago I did only one thing: blog. Now I Flickr. YouTube. Seesmic. Friendfeed. Facebook. Twitter. And many more. Go to Retaggr and see all the places I’m at.”)
4. Pages now built out of premade blocks. (“You build these pages by copying a line of Javascript code to your template. This is very simple once you see how to do it, but for someone who doesn’t know code, or where in the template to go, this is VERY daunting. Silicon Valley has NOT made it simple enough yet for the mainstream to build highly useful pages.”)
5. It’s social. (“This seems obvious to anyone on Twitter or Facebook, but how many businesses add their customers to their pages? Not many. Silicon Valley has done a horrible job so far of explaining why adding people to your websites matters.”)
6. It’s smart. (“We’re seeing more and more smarts added to the web every day. Tonight Wolfram’s new search engine turned on. Have you played with it? That’s the 2010 web and check out what you can do with it.”)
7. Hybrid infrastructure. (“When I visited in Santa Cruz they told me they were using a hybrid approach: they own a rack of servers but they also use Amazon’s S3 to “cloud burst” or take up the slack for files that are popular.”)

Interesting stuff…

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Asymmetric follow and why it’s good for you

Tim O’Reilly writes persuasively about the virtues of allowing people to follow you without you being required to follow them back. He calls this “asymmetric follow” or “Twitter-mode”. This ability is one of the key advantages that Twitter has over other networks like Facebook and Dopplr which require you to response to friend requests in order to grow the network.

With Twitter’s model, I can find people I’m interested in, whether or not they know me, and learn about them and their lives and thoughts. Others can include me in their lists. You become “friends” with complete strangers over time, by communicating with them (responding with @messages for example), perhaps by mutual following. In fact, Twitter’s wonderful system of @ messages means that anyone can address me – and so I find myself having conversations with complete strangers as well. I actually follow my @ messages more faithfully than I do my planned Follow list.

His advice to all social networks: “even if you have your own ideas about how to organize social networks, have an option for users to turn on ‘Twitter-mode’. I think you’d be surprised how well it works.”

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Comments – why they don’t work and how to fix things

The blog Xark has come up with a list of reasons that comments don’t work on newspaper sites (for which you can also read “magazine community sites”) and some suggestions on how to fix the problem. The main reason for failure is lack of engagement/understanding from the journalists, it seems, and the main way to fix the problem is to focus on it, take responsibility and embrace the two-way architecture of the web. Sound advice…

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Emily Bell on the future of journalism

The Root of the Matter posts a very lucid account of a lecture on the future of journalism given by Emily Bell, head of digital content at the Guardian. Emily, who is now also a visiting professor at University College Falmouth, said there were clear pointers to the future:

  • Journalism will go where the audience is (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or whatever comes next)
  • It will be networked not siloed (acting as a pointer to good content as much as creating it from scratch)
  • Journalists will have to be very trustworthy – transparency will be king
  • Journalists will have to readily share information
  • Journalism will no longer be possible without an audience

Her other thought was that journalism will never show a profit – it has been subsidised in the past and this will continue. Oh, and people will never pay for news. Not sure I agree in a B2B context, but she’s probably right for the mainstream media.

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